New Brunswick – In what are reported to be the return of bi-weekly press briefings on the back to school plan for 2020, Dr. Jennifer Russell and Deputy Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, George Daley, today, Thursday, August 20, announced continued support will be available for vulnerable students on their return to school this September.
Daley said beginning Monday, August 31, schools and district education support teams will begin the evaluation process with parents to determine which vulnerable students may require daily or altered attendance for the school year. Daley said the evaluation process should be completed by Friday, September 4.
Students considered vulnerable may be immune-compromised, face mental or physical health challenges, or could suffer food insecurity, amongst other possible criteria.
Families of students with significant medical conditions are asked to consult with their health-care provider to determine whether it is safe for those children to attend school. If parents are advised the student should not attend school, families are encouraged to contact the school principal beginning August 31 to discuss plans to ensure they can continue learning at home. Those parents who have chosen to keep their children at home simply due to the pandemic must fill out this home-school request form.
Daley assured parents all previous resources for these children in place prior to COVID-19 will still be in place, but additional staff such as an increased number of Educational Assistants has not been deemed necessary by the department.
Districts and schools will work with the families of medically vulnerable students to develop a plan to ensure that they have consistent access to education, based upon their needs and situation.
Students currently on personalized learning plans will continue to follow their plans. All students in kindergarten through Grade 8 who are not medically vulnerable will attend school full time. Many high school students will be attending classes every other day, however, high school students with complex needs will attend full time to ensure consistent access to the services and support they require.
Educational Support Services teams will contact identified families between Monday, August 31 and Friday, September 4 to work with them in the development of their child’s personalized learning plan. Any students who have previously been provided assistive technology will continue to have access to that technology. This applies to students in all grades.
Daley said this process will also apply to students who may not have been considered vulnerable prior to the pandemic, but who are now experiencing challenges which could impact their mental health, well-being, and or ability to learn. He said those students will also be taken into consideration under the vulnerable student umbrella.
COVID-19 testing for teachers and school staff
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jennifer Russell, said public health will make COVID-19 testing available for asymptomatic teachers or school staff concerned about potential exposure to the virus.
Russell said the opening of schools will be a “test of our ability to live with the virus”, but she believes the province is ready to meet the challenge.
“It will require ongoing collaboration among schools, educators, support staff, parents, and students for us to succeed,” said Russell.
“We must go forward with caution and with vigilance, but we must go forward,” said Russell.
Unless a student is staying home for medical reasons, vulnerable students travelling on a school bus will follow the same directives previously shared by the department.
All students will sit in the same seat on their school bus every day. To promote physical distancing, buses will be filled from back to front. Clear curtains are also being installed to provide a physical barrier between bus drivers and students while students are getting on and off the bus. Since 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 to 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.
Russell said if a positive case of COVID-19 is identified at the school, public health will inform the principal of the school, who will in turn inform the relevant school community.
She added any students who come into the province from outside the Atlantic bubble will be required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival, and those students will be tested on the tenth day of isolation.
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has released a parent and public guide supporting the Return to School: September 2020 plan for the public-school system.
The Return to School: Guide for Parents and the Public provides a detailed overview of what students, parents and guardians need to know before returning to school in September. It outlines the requirements schools and school districts must meet while developing their COVID-19 operational plans, which will be made available to parents. It works in conjunction with public health guidance to the department and may be changed based upon the evolution of the pandemic.
Schools and districts will make individual school operational plans available to parents on Thursday, September 3.
Any parent with questions around the Return to School plan can email firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions about the Laptop Subsidy Program, parents can call 1-833-901-1963 or email EECDRTS-EDPERAE@gnb.ca