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Nova Scotia Tories call for back-to-school plan, submit recommendations

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's Opposition Progressive Conservatives are calling for a timely release of a plan for the province's public schools, saying parents and teachers require "peace of mind" ahead of September.
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HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's Opposition Progressive Conservatives are calling for a timely release of a plan for the province's public schools, saying parents and teachers require "peace of mind" ahead of September.

Tory Leader Tim Houston made the call at a news conference held outside the provincial legislature on Wednesday, pointing out that nine other provinces have already made their plans public.

Houston said his party has written to Premier Stephen McNeil asking for immediate action and also submitted its own plan with 30 recommendations for the government's consideration.

"Once you have a plan, it takes time to execute on that plan," said Houston. "It's not fair to wait until August, or July even, to tell people what to expect or how to prepare. You have to let them know sooner."

Houston said his party's plan is based on consultations with the education sector and includes input from former teachers and principals, as well as party caucus members.

Among the Tories' recommendations: a 15-child class-size cap for pre-primary through Grade 5; help for at-home learning that also takes into account capacity for a family's access to the internet; having schools submit plans for cleaning protocols; and having school buses operate at half capacity.

While younger children would return to school with reduced class sizes, the Tory plan would see students from grades 6 through 12 return under a blended program. It would see them in school two to three days a week with at-home learning during the other days.

The Tories say the health risk level needs to be constantly assessed because of the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 into the fall and winter months.

The plan also calls for school operations to be decentralized to the local level, where teachers and administrators are in closer contact with students and the wider community.

"There's a lot of planning to be done around human resource requirements and that's why this discussion can't be put off any longer," Houston said.

However, Education Minister Zach Churchill said the amount of work required to get a proper plan in place is the reason one likely won't come out until mid-summer.

Churchill said a working group is currently examining 22,000 survey responses from parents about their experiences over the last few months as students learned at home. Another student survey is due this Sunday, he said, as Education Department officials continue to seek feedback from teachers and administrators.

"We are going to take some time to really go through this and find the themes of concerns and challenges ... and apply that to next fall," said Churchill.

The minister said his department is looking at some blended teaching options between in-home and in-school instruction, but is also wary of the potential for a second wave of the virus.

"We are going to be prepared for whatever the situation is come fall, and there will be communication with school communities throughout the summer," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2020.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press




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