Province outlines back to school plans

NEW BRUNSWICK – No more classroom bubbles for Kindergarten to Grade 8 students, mandatory vaccination or regular testing for all school and district staff, and masks in all common areas in high schools; these are just some of the protocols announced by Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Dominic Cardy on Friday, Aug. 20 in a live press briefing from Fredericton.

“I was thrilled this week to see our government announce that government employees will be required to receive a vaccination for COVID-19 or to undergo regular testing and wear a mask at all times,” said Cardy.

“This applies to school and district staff across the education system and provides us with an excellent defense.”

Cardy said approximately 90 per cent of staff took advantage of vaccination that was made available in the spring, and the measures schools will have in place are there to help keep people safe.

“We saw declining numbers province-wide as vaccines started to do their work,” said Cardy. “And I want to thank all New Brunswickers for rolling up their sleeves and taking the one step that can get us out of this pandemic once and for all.

“If you work in the system, if you’re a student going back to school and you’re eligible for a vaccine, go and get your shot. That means you’ve played your part in putting this pandemic behind us and protecting the people that you care about.”

Some of the changes students will see for the 2021/22 school year will be Kindergarten to Grade 8 students will no longer be required to remain within classroom or group bubbles, and will instead return to regular group sizes. These students will be required to wear masks in common indoor areas, and assemblies cannot be held.

Visitors to schools must have an appointment, and wear a masks. Schools will also only be used for youth activities and will not be available to outside groups for use.

Cardy said movement around the schools will also be choreographed to limit in-hallway congestion, and educators are encouraged to utilize outdoor spaces as much as possible.

Cardy said all schools will continue with advised Public Health protocols such as hand washing, increased cleaning schedules, mask use, and vaccination.

The approximately 70 provincial high schools will also return to full-time, in-person learning for the 2021/22 school year, but “lower than anticipated” vaccination rates in the 12 to 19-year-old age group means high schools will have additional protocols in place.

Students can expect to once again be involved in sports and extra-curricular activities.

Cardy said 12 to 19-year-olds are “not at a point of significant protection”, and masks will be required in all common areas. In addition, unvaccinated staff will be required to wear masks at all times.

Assemblies at high schools will be permitted, but all in attendance must be masked, and schools are encouraged to utilize outdoor spaces whenever possible. As with elementary and middle schools, visitors to high schools will be limited, and require an appointment.

Additional protocols in high schools will be lifted when 90 per cent of students in a health zone have been fully vaccinated. Cardy said currently, approximately 50 per cent of high schoolers have reached the fully vaccinated mark.

Masks will also be required on school buses by all age groups and grades.

The Healthy and Safe Schools guidelines have been released, and can be found here.

For more information on the start of the school year, click here.