A safe Return to School is Possible

Education workers, parents and students alike are concerned about the return to school in September. 

Teachers want to be back in their classrooms. Kids are tired of staring at phone and computer screens. Parents are eager to return to life as normal. 

But we’re not convinced that our governments are doing all they can to keep our school communities safe during this pandemic. As NSTU president Paul Wozney has emphasized: the current plan is simply not good enough.

We’re told we have to “learn to live with COVID-19.” This may be true, but it doesn’t mean that those of us who spend our days in schools should compromise our safety for the abstract goal of re-starting the economy.

The province has received more than $48 million from the federal government specifically to help with the safe return to school – yet there’s no indication that this money will be spent to ensure the most important measure for containing the spread of COVID-19: reducing class sizes to allow for physical distancing.

We know there are effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 – in particular, physical distancing; and avoiding spending long periods in closed, poorly ventilated areas with large groups of people.
 
Why then are so many educational authorities across the country forcing students and school staff into exactly these conditions? 

Along with reductions to class sizes, properly functioning ventilation systems, and mask use (thankfully, most school authorities have now said they will require and support students to wear masks to school), there are other, complementary measures such as rapid COVID-19 testing, paid sick days for all workers (so parents can stay home with sick children) and even rent and mortgage freezes would allow families to make decisions about school based on the best interests of their children, not economic desperation. 

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed deep inequities in our society for all to see: those who can work from home and those who can’t; those with and without access to technology; people with easy access to outdoor space and those without. 

If plans to reopen schools are unsafe, it’s the marginalized in society who risk the most – those children who must come to school because their parents have no choice but to return to work in order to survive. 
 
Governments are concerned about deficits and their bottom line. But our province and our country do have the means to ensure a safe return to school for all – not to mention to ensure that all Nova Scotians are fed and have a comfortable place to call home. 

In February, when the NS Liberal government decided to cut corporate taxes, it found $80 million dollars. In March, when the ferry terminal in Bar Harbor, Maine needed an upgrade, the government found another $8.5 million. 

A modest wealth tax on Nova Scotia’s four billionaires would barely be felt, but could yield millions for provincial coffers.

Safe schools are possible. Let’s demand them.  

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