COVID-19 adds more than $18 million to projected education budget
Education officials give their final briefing before school starts
So far, COVID-19 has added an additional $18.4 million in infrastructure and cleaning costs to the budget for the coming school year in New Brunswick, according to figures released by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
That figure includes "an increase in custodians to meet new cleaning protocols, increased sanitization and custodial supplies and personal protective equipment for schools," said the statement from the department.
While some of those supplies haven't yet made it to individual schools, it is expected to be there by the time school starts.
Deputy education Minister George Daley said teachers and staff have been working since March for the eventual return of students, and next week "is the final step" in that process.
He said teachers are "up to the task."
And to make sure parents and students are ready for a return to school unlike any other, the department has created an infographic checklist, Daley said Thursday during the last live-streamed update to parents before school starts next week.
Schools were expected to release their operational plans Thursday, and Daley said parents can find those on their school's website.
And some details in the operational plan are still being sorted out, said Daley.
One of those deals with students who will be learning on alternate days at home — but without a suitable internet connection.
Daley said school officials are still working with individual students to sort out issues and possible solutions.
And in some cases, deputy minister Marcel Lavoie added, students don't yet know therez's an issue. That might only surface after students try to connect with their teachers next week.
Daley said all students should come to school with two clean masks every day and a container to carry them in.
A mask will be provided to students if they forget their own, he said.
And while masks are encouraged at the younger levels, they are mandatory in Grades 6-12. If a child continues to show up without a mask, school officials will talk to the parents.
The bottom line, said Daley, is that mask use is not up for debate. If families refuse, students could be removed from school, he said.
Daley said his department has ordered face shields for all teachers and staff in all schools. But whether they wear them is up to them, according to the department's back-to-school plan for schools.
Raywat Deonandan, a global-health epidemiologist and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said he's a "big fan of shields."
"They're not as good as masks for outward protection, since droplets can leak out of the bottom and sides, especially over longer time periods. But they are good for inward self-protection.
"When worn with a mask, they are a great extra layer of high-probability protection."
Deonandan said the ones that tuck under the chin, sometimes called dome shields, offer even greater protection than masks, especially if they cover the eyes. They also offer other benefits.
"You can share facial expressions, lip read, and do not suffer from claustrophobia or constriction."
He said face shields are also great for small children who have a tough time wearing regular face masks.
Daley said teachers are working on individual plans for their classroom and how to use technology to reach half the class at home on alternating days.
He said it will likely take a couple of weeks to iron out the kinks and develop a model that works for their class.
Lavoie said it's important for parents to maintain communication with their children and with the school to ensure the model is working effectively. He said parents should ask children how they're doing, rather than telling them what they should be doing.
He also said it's a good time for parents to deliver valuable lessons about time management and developing good work and study strategies.