N.B. students return to class Monday facing new restrictions

·3 min read
Students across New Brunswick will have to stick to their classroom
Students across New Brunswick will have to stick to their classroom

Students in New Brunswick are heading into classrooms on Monday facing a new series of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Less than two weeks into the school year, it's no longer looking like students will be able to return to business as usual as they hoped.

The province announced 80 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across 20 schools on Friday. Only 100 cases were reported in schools over the 2020-2021 school year.

Students across New Brunswick will again be forced to stick to their classroom "bubbles" to maintain social distancing, starting Monday.

"I think the province has to initiate some restrictions at this point and I think it's really sad that has to happen," said Irene Brennan, who has a 10-year-old grandson attending a Fredericton school.

"I know my little one, who's unvaccinated, thinks it's not fair and that people should really be doing what we're all told and getting the vaccinations so they can have a normal school year."

Like last academic year, schools will have to strategize to encourage greater social distancing between classroom bubbles, such as adjusting lunch or recess schedules.

For Grade 7 student Mia Fernandes, that will mean missing out on spending time with friends during her lunch break.

"I don't really know a lot of people in my classroom and it's going to be weird now going back to doing what we we're doing before," said Fernandes, who goes to school in Fredericton.

"At lunch we usually saw each other and hung out, but now we can't."

Gary Moore
Gary Moore

Other measures include holding physical education outdoors when possible and wearing masks when it's taught indoors, field trips with only one class bubble at a time, no assemblies, and mandatory vaccinations to take part in activities for students who are old enough and don't have a medical exemption.

Schools scrambling to adjust: teachers' association

The changes that are being implemented are going to result in a lot of overtime for teachers and staff, said Connie Keating, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association.

Schools were only given notice to prepare for the new measures on Friday, the same day the public was informed.

"The changes affect every aspect of the operation of a school. Absolutely every aspect of a school needs to be rethought so students can be safe, and this has to happen tomorrow," said Keating on Sunday, who also works as co-president of the teachers' federation.

"Teachers are advising school families well into the evening as well as fielding a multitude of questions that are best answered by public health."

Zoom interview
Zoom interview

The federation has called for a meeting with Premier Blaine Higgs and Education Minister Dominic Cardy to talk about the new measures.

That call was echoed by the federation in a tweet on Saturday.

It resulted in the minister firing back, claiming the union supports teachers who are against vaccination and disagree with having to be tested on school property.

"The unions object to this. I'm here for the overwhelming majority who want safe schools. Do you trust anti-vaxxers?" he wrote in a tweet.

He added in another tweet: "The [New Brunswick Teachers' Federation] is taking the side of anti-vaxx teachers and complaining about the speed with which COVID measures are introduced. They don't share that information because they know the public — and most [federation] members — would be horrified."

Keating said the minister is misrepresenting their concerns, which actually involve the privacy of their teachers.

While other provincial employees who are unvaccinated have been permitted to take their COVID-19 tests at home, New Brunswick teachers have been required to have their testing supervised by their administrators on school property.

This also distracts administrators from their other responsibilities, she said.

"He doesn't seem to understand or respect our school operations. He has taken things out of context and has confused it with his own personal views on vaccination," she said.

"That is the work of health professionals, not our school leaders."

The education minister couldn't immediately be reached for comment on Sunday.

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