Online first – Education Minister, Dominic Cardy, and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jennifer Russell, provide update on Return to School plan for September 2020

New Brunswick – Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Dominic Cardy, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, detailed a parent and public guide today, Thursday, August 13, supporting the Return to School: September 2020 plan for the public-school system.

“This is the end of the beginning,” said Cardy, “in terms of back to school plans as we get ready for the return to classes in a few weeks’ time.”

Cardy also said he was one of the first education ministers across the country to present a back-to-school plan back in June, knowing that although the end of June brought the technical end of the school year, parents were already thinking about what September would bring.

Today’s briefing was the first in what will be a bi-weekly live streamed updates on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. from today until school begins in September.

The Return to School: Guide for Parents and the Public outlines a detailed overview of what students, parents and guardians need to know before returning to school in September. It provides the protocols and requirements schools and districts must meet in the development of their COVID-19 operational plans.  The plans, which will be made available to parents, function in conjunction with Public Health guidance and are living documents – which can be modified as the pandemic evolves.

Cardy said the department of education has been working with Russell and the department of health as plans and preparations are “adjusted and refined”, and teachers in the almost 300 hundred schools across the province have had professional learning opportunities throughout the summer.

He said while there are general protocols and operational requirements, each school is able to create its own operational plan to best fit those requirements into each individual school community.

Cardy said as today’s briefing was the first of several, it should not be expected all questions will be answered, and there is too much information to share in a single press briefing, hence the multiple briefings scheduled in the coming weeks.

Today’s information centered around basic classroom protocols and masks.

In addition to reduced group sizes, classroom bubbles for students in kindergarten to Grade 8 and blended learning for high school students, the guide includes direction for face mask use, transportation, cleaning, outbreak management and learning plans.

“This is a plan for managing risks, not eliminating them,” said Russell.

“As a parent, I share your concerns, share your anxieties.  My children will be in school with your children.”

Russell said it’s important for parents to know a positive case identification in a school will not necessitate closure of the school. 

If there is a confirmed positive case (not simply an individual being tested), Russell said public health will advise the school, which will in turn inform parents.  She said public health will do the contact tracing, and while that individual will have to self-isolate, from there it might be a handful of others who must do the same, an entire classroom, multiple classrooms, or the entire school may have to close, all dependent on contact levels.

“A single case of COVID-19 will not automatically trigger a closure of a school,” said Russell.

She also said if a school has an outbreak, and you are not contacted, that means the individual who tested positive did not come in contact with your child, so “it’s a good thing” to not hear from public health, said Russell.

Face mask use

Every student will bring a face mask to school daily, but masks will not be required inside the classroom. Students in Grades 6-12 will wear face masks on the school bus and in common areas of the school such as washrooms and in the hallways. Use of a face mask in common areas is encouraged for students in K-5 but is not required.

If they stay within their classroom bubble, K-8 teachers can choose whether or not to wear a face mask or shield. In Grades 9-12, teachers will wear a face mask or shield whenever they are not able to physically distance.

Transportation

Curtains will be installed to provide a physical barrier between school bus drivers and students while students get on and off the bus. If physical distancing is not possible, the driver will be required to wear a face mask or shield.

Students will sit in the same seat every day. To promote physical distancing, buses will be filled from back to front. As K-5 students are not required to wear masks, they will sit one student per seat, or with a member of their household. Students in Grades 6-12 wearing masks will sit two to a seat, but do not have to wear masks if they are sitting alone or with a member of their household.

Personal safety and screening

Parents will be responsible for screening their child before coming to school daily. Information packages, including screening questionnaires will be sent directly to families through the schools. Information is also available online.

Educators will teach students age-appropriate ways to reduce physical contact and promote good hygiene. Students will be reminded to wash or sanitize their hands regularly, including each time they enter the school or classroom.

Enhanced cleaning protocols

Hand sanitizing stations will be installed at school entrances and in every classroom. Drinking fountains will be replaced with water bottle filling stations.

Commonly touched surfaces will be cleaned regularly throughout the day. Personal spaces, such as desks and lockers, will be cleaned daily. Changing rooms will be cleaned a minimum of three times per day. More details on specific school cleaning protocols will be outlined in each school’s individual operational plan.

The department will continue to work with educators, schools and school districts in the coming months. Schools and districts will make individual school operational plans available to parents before students return to school on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Parents with questions about the Return to School plan or the Laptop Subsidy Program can call the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development at 1-833-901-1963 or email EECDRTS-EDPERAE@gnb.ca

“The best way to keep COVID-19 out of our schools is to keep COVID-19 out of our province,” said Cardy.

editor@stcroixcourier.ca