Teachers are being sent back to class in June, while students stay home
The province announced the closure of schools March 13 to slow the spread of coronavirus
New Brunswick teachers will gradually return to school at the beginning of June, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said Tuesday.
The province closed schools March 13 to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and online learning sessions were eventually established.
New Brunswick hasn't had an active case of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, in 13 days, but Cardy is looking ahead to September.
"We have to be ready in case the virus comes back, and we can't afford any more disruptions to students' learning," Cardy told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Teachers will gradually return to school between June 1 and June 5 to finish school work from this year and start planning for fall.
Cardy said school will resume in September, but he doesn't know what that will look like yet. Classes could resume inside the schools, but they could also be taught online.
"We don't know whether classes will be back or online because we don't decide what happens to the coronavirus," he said.
What will teachers be doing in June?
Once teachers return to school, they will be preparing for the 2020-2021 school year. They could also be working on professional development, which could include online webinars or in-person with colleagues to learn how to teach during a pandemic.
"It's a good time to get teachers in and get them ready for a difficult year to come," Cardy said.
Some teachers will also be finalizing report cards and learning about new safety protocols for the classroom, such as physical distancing.
"So when they come back in September, it's not new to them," said George Daley, deputy minister of the anglophone education system.
Cardy said this will also allow teachers to address some of the challenges they've been experiencing while teaching at home, such as issues pertaining to internet connection.
"It's like snow days on steroids, we don't know what's coming on any given day."
Rick Cuming, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, said it's going to be a lot more challenging for teachers at larger schools to return to work.
He used the example of Leo Hayes High School and Fredericton High School in Fredericton, which have at least 100 people on staff.
"Some of our huge schools, there's no way that all of those teachers are going to be able to return on the same day and in the same way," Cuming said. "Versus some of the smaller schools that would have four or six teachers. They could probably have everybody return easily."
Supply teachers also impacted by COVID-19
Cuming said supply teachers have also been affected by the pandemic because they have had no employment since schools shut down, unless they were booked to teach following the closure announcement.
"They received some of the pay even though they weren't working," he said.
Cuming said it will also be important to consider how supply teachers will be affected by the changes come fall.
"When teachers are out and supply teachers jump in, it's already a challenge for our supply teachers to step into a building and figure out all of the routines that exist in some of these buildings," Cuming said.
"But then to have all the health and safety routines, it's going to be a huge consideration."
Students learn at home
Since the closure, students have been doing varying levels of school work sent home by their teachers.
Because some students lacked suitable access to the internet, the province also bought and is distributing 1,000 iPad tablets with data plans, 500 laptop computers and 300 mobile internet hubs so that children can get access to materials posted online.
The total cost was $860,000, which comes from the Department of Education budget.
Cardy said the province has heard from students that were missed and didn't receive the technology they needed to continue with their studies. He said the province is working to make sure those students, as well as any new students coming in, have the technology they need.
The last day of classes is June 12 for students and June 28 for teachers. But Cardy said he expects teachers will be heading into school over the summer months to continue planning for teaching during a possible pandemic.
"Teachers have not had any training in doing this," he said.