When looking back over the past few years of educational history in our province, it would be fair to say that the Liberal Government under Stephen MacNeil has had some turbulent moments.
This is not meant to be a criticism, per se, but rather an observation from one who watches such things. It could certainly be argued that few of the issues of conflict over the past few years necessarily required the level of heightened acrimony they eventually achieved. As well, there is some question as to whether they have reaped the transformational benefits for which they were purportedly sown.
However, even taking into account what were arguably some poorly managed moments, (depending, of course on your politics), it will be this one, right now, which will potentially leave the most lasting legacy. COVID-19 has arrived in our schools, and the Liberal plan to keep our kids safe is set to be tested.
From the moment the plan was announced, the government has assured Nova Scotians that it was a good one. In fact, they felt it was so good that they openly refused to even discuss it. Despite requests from parents groups, the official opposition, the NDP and the NSTU, our government deemed it unnecessary to provide details or answer questions on the issue, outside of tightly controlled press conferences. (I don’t recall ever casting a ballot to elect a reporter to bring my tax-payer concerns to our government officials, but I digress.)
Even as late as September, Education Minister Zach Churchill reassured us that the Back-to-School plan was solid. He told Nova Scotians at the time:
“We’ve put a lot of thought into this, we’ve worked with … some of the best pediatricians in the country, we’ve worked with Dr. Strang… We’ve worked with our union partners … to come up with a plan that allows us to get all of our kids back to school and do so in a way that is relatively safe.”
So, lots of thought, lots of planning, everyone on the same page. Then COVID hit our schools, and all that planning seemed to go out the window. Union “partners” had to rely on media reports for their information. Opposition parties were unable to ask questions of the government due to the legislature being shut down. Parents showed their confidence in the effectiveness of the plan and its “relative safety” by keeping their kids home in droves.
Not exactly the start to the second wave that any of us were hoping for.
To be perfectly fair, it’s not as if there are any plans around COVID anywhere in the country that seem to be faring any better, or any worse than ours. As well, credit where it is due. The subsequent shuttering of the metro area schools and the announcement that those students would once again be entering into on-line learning certainly seemed prudent given the circumstances. The logistical impracticalities of the blended model leave the at-home model, for all its flaws, as the best option.
However, it would have helped many of us sleep a great deal better if this first, limited in-school outbreak had been handled with a bit more finesse.
In our schools, educational staff are trying their very best to keep up with COVID protocols. For their part, kids are doing what kids always do; pushing boundaries and being forgetful, but let’s face it, they are surviving a pandemic. I’m not sure I would have handled this as well as the majority of my students seem to be doing right now. Parents, like me, are doing what we can from our end, and are placing a great deal of faith and hope in both aforementioned groups to do everything in their limited power to stop the spread within schools.
Yet, from where I sit, this was an excellent opportunity for the government to reassure all of us that the plan they have developed to keep our kids safe while keeping our schools open is indeed a sound one.
No one is operating under the false pretense that this is the last school based COVID outbreak we will see. Nor can we realistically anticipate that the MacNeil Liberals will be changing their unique brand of “collegial collaboration” any time soon. That leaves the government solely responsible for learning from this moment, and doing better the next time for all of us.
That is a heavy burden to be carried by a government whose leader, for all intents and purposes, has one foot out the door.
Here’s hoping, for all our sakes, they are, as they claim, legitimately up to the task.