Parents, teachers' union question why N.S. schools stay open through extreme heat

·3 min read
Schools remained open in Nova Scotia as the humidex made it feel like the high 30s in some parts of the province.  ( - image credit)
Schools remained open in Nova Scotia as the humidex made it feel like the high 30s in some parts of the province. ( - image credit)

Some parents and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union are questioning why Nova Scotia schools have remained open in the midst of a heat warning.

Holly Chappus, who lives in Black River, N.S., refused to send her daughter to school Monday as temperatures reached into the 30s C, making it feel nearly 40 C with the humidex.

"Some parents have picked up their children and brought them home because it's basically unbearable," Chappus said of her daughter's classmates.

Chappus said her daughter's Grade 2 classroom only has one window that opens.

"To mask a bunch of kids and teachers and staff all day long in humidity of 38 C is just unrealistic," she said.

Most schools in New Brunswick closed early Monday because of the extreme heat conditions.

Union president blames educational leaders

Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, questioned why Nova Scotia didn't do the same.

He said teachers flagged concerns about the temperature when the forecast came out late last week. Like Chappus, he opted to keep his three school–aged children home on Monday.

"I know that the buildings they attend have very poor ventilation [and] windows are in various states of disrepair," he said.

He believes masking would be difficult with no air conditioning.

"Kids and parents shouldn't be put in situations where they have to decide between being safe from COVID–19 and comfortable in extreme heat," said Wozney. "It's a real lack of decision making on the part of educational leaders."

Wozney said some schools had packed up water coolers when they were initially told they would be doing online learning for the rest of the year. He said it's been a scramble since schools unexpectedly reopened.

"There is a significant number of schools that don't have potable drinking water for students and are relying on families to send enough water with kids to school on days like this to make sure they don't get dehydrated," he said.

CBC News heard from four regional centres of education, all of which offered similar statements about the heat.

They're all encouraging teachers to schedule mask and water breaks throughout the day.

"As an example, some classes have a spot set up that is far enough away from others so that students can take turns at that desk without a mask," Ashley Gallant, a spokesperson for both the South Shore and Tri-County Regional Centres for Education, wrote in an email.

The centres said schools are also setting up fans near open windows and students are encouraged to wear light clothing.

"The weather is cooler in the evenings and early mornings, and in some cases, custodial staff are coming in during those times to get the cooler air into the school," wrote Gallant.

Teachers can teach outside in the shade

Both the Annapolis Valley and Chignecto Central Regional Centres for Education said teachers can hold classes outdoors in shaded areas, if possible.

The province's Education Department offered similar messaging in a statement, saying teachers can take their students outside in the shade.

"[Teachers] remind students about the importance of hydration, hats and sunscreen," a statement said.

"Regional centres for education and [Conseil scolaire acadien provincial] manage their schools as it relates to weather. Not every region experiences heat or snow in the same way, so regional flexibility is important."

Chappus said she still has concerns and wants the Education Department to intervene and close schools without air conditioning. She plans to keep her daughter home until the heat wave ends.

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