For many students and parents on the South Shore, it was an inauspicious if not unsurprising start to the new year.
While staff returned to schools Jan. 4 as originally planned, as cases of COVID-19 began escalating in number the students’ return was extended to Jan. 10..
On Jan. 5, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston and the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Strang, announced students would only be returning to online learning on Jan. 10, and they were not expected to return to their classrooms until Jan. 17.
Paul Ash, Regional Executive Director for the South Shore Regional Centre for Education (SSRCE), was taking the pivots in stride, and told LighthouseNOW home-learning is a good alternative to being in the classrooms at this time.
“We’re prepared. It’s going to look very similar to last year. Our students can expect a combination of real-time instruction delivered by teachers and some self-directed learning,” he said. “It worked really well for us last year and we’re expecting it to work really well again for us this year.”
Ash said the decision to pause in-school learning allowed the province to “build confidence and comfort with our staff and students as additional measures are put in place.”
An ongoing concern since the beginning of the pandemic is the efficiency of schools’ Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems to reduce the spread of the virus. According to Ash, all circulation systems in SSRCE schools are regularly maintained and have been working well.
In the Jan. 5 media briefing, Houston said that more than 70 schools across the province would receive upgrades to their HVAC systems to improve ventilation, especially the ones that rely on natural ventilation.
Among those schools in the SSRCE catchment area, Ash said that eight will receive portable High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration systems, including schools in Hebbville, New Ross, Newcombville, Pentz, Petite Riviere, Big Tancook, New Germany and North Queens.
Ash wanted to assure that ventilation in schools are all in good working order, “but these new systems provide an additional level of comfort and confidence for staff and students as they return to our system.”
The filtration units are to be installed and working by the time students return to the classrooms.
“We’ve always believed and continue to say that schools are the best place for our students to be, and our schools will continue to be safe places for our staff and students,” said Ash.
“Quite frankly, the numbers in our region have supported that. We have done very well thanks to the communities on the South Shore. None of this would be possible without communities following guidelines and doing what they can to keep our communities safe and (so) the kids can stay in school,” he added.
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin