I am writing to you today as a parent of two children in the public school system to express my extreme disappointment with how you and your government have handled the response of public schools to the COVID-19 crisis.
First of all, I recognize that these have been challenging times for everyone in the Province. I am working hard to keep my business running and my wife is working to meet the demands of her job during this crisis, while also trying to keep our kids active, engaged, and learning from home. This has been a difficult balancing act. We also know that there are others facing far greater hardships than us.
Considering all of that, the lack of support for students and parents from the public school system in this Province has been staggering.
The Premier announced the closure of Nova Scotia schools on March 15th, 2020. While most universities and private schools had online learning for their classes set up within days, it took until April 8th (three and a half weeks) for the public school system to have online learning in place, despite the fact that google classroom was already available and in use as a tool..
Our experience with online learning has been mixed. Our son's class has had twice weekly class sessions by video conference, and daily assignments which take up to an hour to complete, with limited parental guidance. This has provided our son with much-needed structure and opportunities to socialize with his classmates, both important at his age. It keeps him engaged, and allows us to complete our work as well.
Our daughter's class has not had any group classroom sessions. They have had weekly one on one sessions for half an hour, and daily assignments, most of which have taken no more than five minutes to complete. They were provided with free access to a book website for 30 days, after which we had to pay for the subscription ourselves. She has been missing both structure and the opportunity to socialize with her classmates. This has directly affected both her mental health and ours.
Other parents report mixed experiences, with some barely receiving any support at all. This suggests that teachers have not been given clear expectations regarding their work during COVID-19, and that not enough of them have been trained to use the tools that are available, like google classroom. Nor has the Province provided much in the way of resources to parents to support their kids in learning: No websites, no online subscriptions, and no materials.
And what little support we were getting has been abruptly cut off. Your government recently announced that online learning would end on June 5th, three and a half weeks before the end of the school year, without any explanation as to how or why this decision was taken.
More recently, the website for registration for EXCEL has failed multiple times during registration, causing additional stress and uncertainty for parents, and wasting more of the little remaining free time that we have.
The expectation seems to be that the kids can "catch up" if they go back to school in the Fall. Yet experts are predicting multiple waves of this disease, and it is entirely possible the kids may be sent home again for periods next year. It remains far from clear that the public school system is prepared for that eventuality. The experience to date inspires little confidence.
Throughout this, communication from the Halifax Regional Centre for Education has been limited, sporadic, and often confusing. Communication from you as Minister has been virtually non-existent. I can only compare this to other Provinces like New Brunswick, where the Minister of Education has been front and centre in leading the response to COVID-19. Even the Prime Minister took the time to directly address students, and made an offer to assist with their homework. That token gesture is more help than we have received from your Department.
Further, there has been little in the way of effort to solicit input from parents. School Advisory Councils are not operating, and neither the Department nor HRCE appear to have undertaken any widespread efforts to solicit parent feedback.
Minister, your government chose to take complete control of the school system, and abolish the school boards, eliminating the only direct link between parents, the public, and the governance of the school system. You own this problem now. This is your crisis to manage.
Either step up, or step aside. Because continuing to let our kids down is not an option.
(This letter was sent to Minister Churchill on May 20th, 2020. I will keep you posted on any reply."