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Hundreds attend virtual HRCE meeting, discuss cell phones, safety and growth in schools

By Caitlin Snow Jun 5, 2024 | 2:50 PM

Hundreds of parents and caregivers jumped on a Teams call to discuss student well-being with education leadership in Halifax.

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) hosted the meeting Tuesday night and responded to more than 660 thoughts submitted by over 530 families.

Cell phones, school safety and growth were of the most concern.

Communications Officer for HRCE, Lindsey Bunin, says the most prevalent topic was cell phones taking a massive toll on focus, learning and even self-esteem.

However, one comment in particular, topped the list.

“For mental health and to reduce distractions, please reduce cell phones during class time.”

Executive Director Steve Gallagher says it’s a complex topic.

“On the one hand a cell phone is, or an iPhone or an Android, whatever… is an incredible tool for learning, on the other hand I think it’s the greatest source of distraction and disruption in the history of education.”

Gallagher adds, a big part of it is the “invisible interaction” between students in and out of class.

Teachers have signaled repeatedly about needing a different approach to help them get students focused on learning.

He says part of the problem is not just the phone, but access to social media.

However, the way things stand now, cell phone policy is determined on a school-by-school basis, but the Department of Education has launched a large-scale consultation.

This will form a provincial approach to phone usage in schools with Minister of Education Becky Druhan expected to make the announcement Thursday, in Halifax.

Student safety

Another hot topic was lack of consequences, considering all the violence.

Just last week, students of Astral Drive Junior High walked out in protest over safety conditions.

Gallagher says no level of violence is acceptable in schools and recognizes that they are falling short of that.

“The goal is that every student and every staff member feels safe in their school, every day.”

He adds that on a provincial level, there are major things underway to help.

This includes the Department of Education’s review of the code of conduct as well as implementing a school lunch program.

“We know that when kids of every age and stage are hungry, they are more likely to act up and lash out.”

He added that members of the senior team of HRCE are also meeting regularly with RCMP and police, to discuss how to work better, together.

Gallagher says, last spring, all of the principles and vice principals received threat risk training, which will include teachers this September.


What was called “the elephant in the room” was growth.

Gallagher called it “unprecedented” and a real challenge, with an increase of nearly 9,000 students in the last five years to make over 59,000 students in 137 schools with 20 different grade configurations.

“If you are in some of the areas like Bedford and Clayton Park you would be very familiar with the changes that have occurred, but broadly speaking if you are in some of the areas that have not been touched yet with this growth, believe me it’s coming.”

To adapt, they opened five new schools in six years, added 141 modular classrooms and made use of 60 portable classrooms.

Three schools are currently under construction with four more announced, with the locations to be determined soon, and will be reconfiguring 11 classrooms.

Gallagher says the main goal is to create space in a positive learning environment.

“Halifax is rapidly growing, and students are arriving in large numbers with families …a wonderful thing for our city and for our province but a challenge for us to keep working on.”