The president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says the province's schools are "in a state of chaos and aren’t ready to welcome students back next week."

Paul Wozney made the comments Wednesday afternoon while Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill and the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, provided an update on the back-to-school plan.

Wozney says the regional centres for education (RCEs) and the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial (CSAP) are "entirely focused on trying to promote the government’s unsafe return to school plan to the public."

As a result, some things are getting missed, Wozney said.

"While teachers are in their classrooms preparing for the arrival of their students under impossible circumstances, education entities are busy tweeting photos of signs and floor decals," says Wozney. "Meanwhile with just two business days until the arrival of students, ventilation systems have yet to be inspected or fixed, windows still don’t open, safe drinking water is not available, proper handwashing stations with soap and running water have not been installed, and hallways are filled with old furniture."

The NSTU has sent Churchill a letter asking the Department of Education to delay the start of classes by holding more professional development days at the beginning of the school year. Under the current plan, teachers don't have enough time, he says.

"Two days isn't going to make physical distancing possible, it's not going to suddenly make sanitizing products that are not in schools appear or give staff a chance to know how they're supposed to be used safely but there are some things that we can do with those two days," Wozney said.

He says the province needs to mandate smaller class sizes and ensure physical distancing so schools can adhere to the same public health guidelines that exist in other workplaces.

"In the middle of a global pandemic we cannot afford to reopen schools in a manner that is rushed or ill-prepared." Wozney said. "If the government fails to take the necessary steps, the NSTU will file a policy grievance regarding the breach of the province’s duty to ensure a safe learning and teaching environments for students and teachers."

NOT ALL SCHOOLS ARE CREATED EQUAL

There will be some big changes for the 430 students who go to the Eastern Passage Education Centre in Eastern Passage, N.S.

Of the 19 homerooms, the principal says eight or nine will be able to socially distance.

"In those other classrooms, we are going to ensure that kids get breaks so we are promoting outdoor time as much as possible and we've taken steps to ensure that outdoor time and space is safe and that it's a bit more comfortable," said Dorothy Hart, the school's principal.

However, while some classrooms will be able to provide space so students can physically distance, Wozney says the vast majority will not.

"Staff have no idea how they're supposed to keep kids safe, they have no idea how they're supposed to adjust their teaching methods to keep kids safe and they're walking through the doors next Tuesday," Wozney said. "So, how teachers are supposed to make something meaningful and safe for kids in two days is an impossible task and we can't afford to reopen schools in a way that's rushed or ill-prepared."

Nova Scotia's opposition parties also took the government to task for its back-to-school plan.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the government's plan puts an unrealistic expectation on parents whose kids catch COVID-19.

"Unfortunately, a huge number of parents do not have access to paid sick leave, forcing them to choose between following public health guidance and being able to afford rent and groceries," Burrill said in a news release.

The NDP leader says it's not fair to put families in that predicament and is calling on the government to come up with a plan for paid sick leave "for every working person in Nova Scotia."

Progressive Conservative education critic Tim Halman says he was pleased to see some more information come out on Wednesday, but says it took too long to get answers to simple questions.

Halman says he's concerned about a sudden influx of calls or requests to the tele-health service.

"The number one question the PC Caucus office has at this time is whether Public Health is ready for this influx of calls, investigations and testing," Halman said in a news release. "We have already heard about numerous delays with the 811 system, and we would like the Liberal government to immediately address this issue."