New Brunswick

Education minister defends return-to-school plans

Dominic Cardy answered parents' questions on CBC Radio call-in show

Dominic Cardy answered parents' questions on CBC Radio call-in show

“I have to beg on behalf of the teachers and people across the province over the next month...please be patient,” said Cardy. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said there's one thing he wants to "shout out" to New Brunswickers: the province's COVID-19 education plan is not what he would want in a perfect world.

"I have to beg on behalf of the teachers and people across the province over the next month...please be patient," said Cardy. 

"People are doing their best. I know it's frustrating and it's a difficult time but it is going to be difficult and there are going to be problems and there are going to be things that don't work properly."

Two weeks ago, the province announced its plans for in-classroom learning in the fall. 

Cardy answered parents' questions on a provincede call–in show, which was broadcast on Information Morning on Monday. Here is a sampling of what they learned:

What happens if a child at school is diagnosed with COVID-19?

Cardy said details are still being worked out with Public Health, but it appears that school would have to close.

"The intention at the moment is that you're going to see closures based on cases, and aggressive cleaning protocols then put in place for a short while, to make sure that there's absolutely no risk to the virus still being in the schools," said Cardy.

Minister Dominic Cardy takes questions about the return to school this fall. 37:21

"Then the practice you've seen in most places is that you then wait for the infection period to play out."

This would require students at the affected school to start learning from home again, a system Cardy said will be more robust than it was in the spring. But he acknowledged there will be challenges.

"I would guess there'll be problems and hiccups, especially the first time it happens in the first place it happens, and it'll be smooth for a while and then [there] will probably be hiccups somewhere else because that's just how things work."

Are high school students being 'sacrificed' in this plan?

The return to schools will also look different depending on grade levels.

Kindergarten to Grade 5 students will have smaller class sizes, middle school students will be in "classroom bubbles," and high school students will only have in-class instruction every other day.

Many parents expressed concerns about the high school aspect of the plan, with one parent feeling high school students were being "sacrificed" for the benefit of other grades.

Cardy took issue with the assertion and said a combination of online learning and co-op programs when students aren't in the classroom may actually be beneficial for them.

"What I've heard from teachers over the years is how they've been forced to put all the kids into these very small group of boxes, with lots of mandatory courses and very little flexibility to pursue things that they're actually interested in or want to do with the rest of their life, because they've got to check off these boxes to get into community college or university or even just to graduate," said Cardy.

Who will teach a child whose parents work and the school is closed?

One parent who called in said her kids will be going to an essential services daycare if the virus closes down schools, which means there would be no one to help with online learning. 

Cardy said he hopes students will be able to be self-reliant with the technology.

"What we're trying to do is make sure the students are well-prepared to be able to use the technology themselves if we do have to go back into the red," said Cardy.

What protections will there be for janitors?

While the province is still ironing out details, other aspects of the schools will change, including maintenance and janitorial services.

"If you're just doing regular cleaning in low use space, that's one thing.  If you're cleaning up in a room where people have been eating, obviously the standards are going to be higher," said Cardy. 

"The government's going to be putting millions of dollars into cleaning supplies extra and above and beyond what we usually expend to make sure that those folks have got the gear that they need to be properly protected."

Will students still take the bus?

Cardy also said buses would run this fall, but it is still trying to figure out exactly how that will work.

"One of the things we've been trying to figure out is, 'Can we reduce loads on the buses and can we make partnerships with municipal transit systems where those exist, given that they're often not heavily used, to try and spread the load across different vehicles so that we minimize the social contact on the buses?'." said Cardy.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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