Schools are a safe, warm place – but they shouldn’t be the only ones

In recent press conferences, Premier Tim Houston acknowledged that many children in this province do not get their basic needs met at home. Among other things, he referred to cold/inadequate housing, lack of food, and lack of supports for our youngest citizens.

It’s great that the PC government has acknowledged the problems. Now, we demand it take action.

Eliminating child poverty won’t happen overnight, but this government can start by implementing the recommendations from the latest Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia’s Report Card on Child and Family Poverty, starting with raising the minimum wage to a living wage, increasing social assistance rates and legislating a minimum of 10 paid sick days for all workers in Nova Scotia.

The Premier’s comments came in the context of students needing to be in school to get their basic needs met. As educators, we know this is all too true. So many of our students come to school hungry, tired, or otherwise stressed from the effects of poverty and marginalization. Fully one-quarter of the province’s students live in poverty; in some parts of the province the number is even higher.

We acknowledge that school is an important social, emotional, and developmental mechanism. However, the province’s failure to come up with a safe, reliable school opening plan is creating even more stress for educators and families. Crowded classrooms and overworked staff are detrimental to learning at the best of times; during a pandemic they are dangerous. Government talks of in-person school as a panacea for student mental health, but when being in school can plausibly lead to serious illness, that is no longer true.

Closing schools causes hardship for families who struggle to find child care. As with many policies, these hardships affect those already struggling the most. Our government needs to make the emotional, mental and physical safety of our most marginalized children its utmost priority, both in the short and long term.

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