An Oromocto, N.B., mother has started an online petition in hopes of persuading the provincial government to reverse its sudden decision to keep schools open at the red level of COVID-19 recovery. Theresa Jarvis posted the petition on change.org Monday morning, urging Education Minister Dominic Cardy and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell to, "Please change back to initial plan of closing all schools in a Red Zone." "I'm hoping that if they're able to see it, that they actually see that there's some support to it," she told CBC News. By Monday evening, more than 350 people had signed the petition. At a news conference Sunday, Cardy announced schools in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, would remain open, even after the region moved to the stricter red level at midnight, following the discovery of 24 of the province's 36 new cases. New guidelines will see all K-12 schools stay open at the red level, he said. The guidelines previously stated if a zone moved to the red phase, all non-essential businesses and schools must close. Jarvis, who has a daughter in Grade 7 and a husband, who is a veteran, with an autoimmune disease, is worried about community spread as case counts continue to climb across New Brunswick. "A lot of the kids are scared, too. I mean, their anxiety is really high." Twenty-six new cases were confirmed on Monday: seven in the Moncton region, Zone 1, nine in the Saint John region, Zone 2, seven in the Fredericton region, Zone 3, two in the Edmundston region, Zone 4, and one in the Bathurst region, Zone 6, pushing the total number of active cases to 304. Although all of the province except for the Edmundston region remains at the orange level, the chief medical officer of health has said the Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton regions are all "on the cusp" of also being moved to red. Jarvis thinks the government should stick with its original plan for schools at the red level. "Back in August, all the parents were basically told everything was set up to switch to direct online learning if it went to red. So we always knew that there was an iPad program to be distributed to low-income families and there was laptops for the high school students who needed them. "We were all quizzed and asked to make sure that we could switch to an online platform. … All the teachers were told how to prepare their lesson plans … and online assignments." Jarvis said she realizes not all parents are able to stay home from work with their children, but she argues that should not take precedence over closing the schools to reduce the risk of exposure and spread. "We wouldn't want [our case counts] to get as bad as Alberta or Ontario." Schools are 'safest place to be' Cardy said he understands "a lot of parents feel anxious right now." But "the reason why this change was made is because the Public Health evidence was that schools were the safest place to be." "They're in controlled environments with strong protections that are, by and large working very, very well with very high rates of compliance," he said. Under the new guidelines, students and staff must stay home if they have even one symptom of COVID-19 and staff will be screened daily. If a positive case of COVID-19 is confirmed at a school at the red level, the school will be closed for a minimum of three days to allow for contact tracing and the school will also become a testing site for school staff. They can say schools are the safest place, but we're seeing cases in schools. And I've already had a vulnerable child potentially exposed. - Jan Gootjes, mother of three students Jan Gootjes, a mother of three in Quispamsis, N.S., who has respiratory and heart problems, isn't convinced. "They can say schools are the safest place, but we're seeing cases in schools. And I've already had a vulnerable child potentially exposed." Her eldest daughter, Marissa, a Grade 12 student, is self-isolating after a case was confirmed at Kennebecasis Valley High School last Thursday. Marissa, nicknamed Marissa the Fierce, is a brain cancer survivor and has a compromised immune system from chemotherapy treatments. The rest of the family is also staying home as much as possible, even though Public Health said it wasn't necessary, because they're in the middle of renovations and with only one fully functioning bathroom, Marissa isn't able to "100 per cent isolate," said Gootjes. "We felt that it was the responsible thing to do." Marissa's first COVID-19 test came back negative Saturday and Gootjes is hopeful her retest Thursday will also be negative because she's very compliant about wearing her mask and she was out of school the morning the exposure occurred for a follow-up MRI and oncology appointment. "We heard that her MRI was good on Thursday morning and then at noon, she got the exposure notification [on the COVID Alert smartphone app]. Never a dull moment." Gootjes, whose other daughter Maddy, also attends Kennbecasis Valley High School as a Grade 10 student, and whose son Charlie is in Grade 7 at Quispamsis Middle School, where a positive case has also been confirmed, was surprised and "very upset" when Cardy announced the red-level policy change on Sunday. Risk 'doesn't make sense,' says Gootjes "We just feel like the risk of keeping schools open … doesn't make sense," when Cardy has said "they are ready to make everything go online at the flick of a switch," she said. Gootjes questions why the government would risk sending tens of thousands of students, teachers and staff to school every day during the red phase, "when we're supposed to be in a very critical situation," when it doesn't need to. "If it's bad enough that we're in red then I feel like schools should be closed," she said. "And I'm not saying for the rest of the school year like they did last year, I'm saying a few weeks to get the cases back under control." Although experts have said children aren't contracting COVID-19 at the same rate as adults and when they do get it, it's mild, Gootjes stressed children live with other people, who are, in turn, potentially exposing a number of other people. Students remove their masks at school to eat and may not always be wearing their masks properly or strictly adhering to the rules, she said. And while students may be restricted to their classroom bubbles during the school day, Gootjes noted some are taking the bus or walking to school with different students. She argues keeping the schools open gives students a false sense of security and could encourage them to hang out with different students outside of school. "I think it sends a message that this isn't as serious as it is." Gootjes acknowledges school closures might be difficult for the mental health of some students, but she doesn't think a short closure would be detrimental. She pointed out high school students are already doing two or three days a week online. Cardy said Monday that closing schools will be a last resort. He pointed to the shortage of early child care spaces for younger students and older students being "left to their own devices." Parents should have a choice If the government does keep schools open, Gootjes contends parents should be able to choose to keep their children home. "To me, it seems like a win-win because if the people that can keep their kids home from school do so, then there's less kids in the schools to spread when there is a case." But the minister said that won't be an option. "We don't offer a combination of home and public schooling in the province," said Cardy. It would add to the burden teachers already face and increase burnout, he said. The New Brunswick Teachers' Federation does not support keeping schools open during the red phase, said federation co-president Rick Cuming. The province did not consult teachers before changing the rules and the one-symptom rule could cause a staffing issue, he said. "We don't understand how we're going to be able to have the human resources to meet the criteria of having no symptoms in a red zone and be able to safely run schools," he said. Gootjes said she supports the teachers. She notes they're at higher risk of exposure than the students because they have multiple classes and other duties, such as bus duty. "I hope that they win that fight," she said. If the province is steadfast and the Saint John region moves to red though, Gootjes said she'll probably seek a note from her family doctor, giving her permission to keep her children home and receive online instruction. She said she'd rather err on the side of caution. That's what she did in November as a precaution when the Saint John region went to the orange level. "I felt that the best option for our family was to pull them out for the two weeks." In January, when the province went to orange, her children didn't want to be pulled out of school again because it was so close to exams. "So I sort of crossed my fingers and hoped for the best and pretty much got the worst with Marissa being exposed."