Public schools likely to stay closed for remainder of school year, Cardy says
Education minister says Grade 12 students poised to graduate this spring will receive diplomas
New Brunswick schools are all but certain to remain closed for the rest of the school year due to COVID-19 and parents will soon be asked to help educate their children at home.
Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy made the much-anticipated announcement Thursday morning.
Cardy said all students who were "positioned academically" to advance to the next grade in the fall will do so, and Grade 12 students poised to graduate this spring will receive diplomas.
He said he has been in touch with post-secondary institutions about how this will affect eligibility for admissions and for scholarships and bursaries.
"We've heard this from the universities," he said. "There is going to be flexibility and accommodations made."
Even so, parents will hear from district education councils "in the days to come" about a plan for children to spend from one to two-and-a-half hours per day on material that will be available online.
Officials acknowledged not all families have the technology to access the online material and said districts will be able to help them by phone.
"Those families should work with teachers to develop solutions that respond to their needs," Cardy said. He said his department is looking at a range of other options, from community cable changes to newspaper inserts.
Parents have a "key role" to play but "we are not asking them to recreate a classroom in their home or take on the full role of a teacher," Cardy said.
Cardy is also asking them to ensure their children spend at least 30 minutes a day reading and 30 minutes doing some form of physical activity.
WATCH: New Brunswick education minister announces schools will likely remain closed until the end of the 2019-2020 school year
At least one parent said Thursday that Cardy's announcement had taken too long and that details are still maddeningly scarce.
"If they had the competence level that other provinces clearly have, a plan would have been pulled together by now," said Kelly Deagle, the mother of a Grade 8 student in Bouctouche.
"We have had nothing, except how to wash your hands. I think we're past that."
The minister said unless the COVID-19 situation "drastically improves," the school year is effectively over now and won't be extended into the summer.
That's the result of the pandemic and not due to any requirements in the collective agreement with the teachers union, he said.
"This is because of COVID-19, not because of collective bargaining issues," he said, calling the co-operation from the New Brunswick Teachers' Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees "exceptional."
Decision on 2020-21 school year yet to be decided
Rick Cuming, the co-president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Federation, said the union's contract with the province presents "no obstacles" to what Cardy announced.
"At first glance we believe this plan presented this morning is reasonable," he said even while acknowledging challenges like some families' lack of access to technology.
"There's going to be no perfect situfation here. … We're doing to do our best under these circumstances. Teachers want to do their part," he said.
"We're of course counting on the co-operation and understanding and flexibility of school authorities and we are going to need to adjust and clarify as we go."
Cardy said the decision on whether the 2020-21 year will start in September will be made later, based on public health criteria.
The government announced a two-week closure of schools March 13 and included the shutdown in its March 19 emergency order.
The following day the two deputy ministers of education said in a note to parents that schools would remain shut "until further notice."
Details out of Thursday news conference
Other details from Thursday's news conference:
Education officials are expected to contact parents about the plan by the end of the day, with individual teachers getting in touch with their students in the days to come.
All provincial academic assessments done through the schools have been cancelled, though the anglophone school system will look at options to hold the Grade 12 French proficiency assessment.
The credit systems are different in the anglophone and francophone school systems, but in both sectors the requirement will be adjusted to take into account where students were at the end of the semester in January.
Principals will look at how students only a credit short of the new requirement can do a "credit recovery," an option available before the pandemic.
Teachers won't be able to enter schools to get their materials because of the physical distancing requirements. "We're really limited in our availability to circulate anything or for teachers to get into the schools for resources," said anglophone deputy minister George Daley. "Teachers will be going through the Internet finding things that are appropriate for the age."
Cardy said the ad hoc system being developed on the fly will provide the kind of "personalized" support for students that he wanted to shift to before COVID-19.
Discovering new ways to teach
"We've moved towards it rather more rapidly and certainly not in the way we would have expected or wanted," he said.
He and Daley both said the silver lining of the shutdown is a chance to try new ways of teaching and break down barriers.
Daley said 3,600 teachers have joined a closed Facebook group to exchange ideas and resources on teaching students at home. "I'm excited about the energy I've seen around this in the last couple of days dealing with teachers," he said.
But Cardy pleaded with parents for patience during an unprecedented situation.
"No one's ever tried to run a modern education system without schools, so it's going to be far too early to say what's working or not working," he said.
"This is going to be a difficult time for our province and our goal is to make sure that we can do our very best to support our learners and their families through that time.
"We are not expecting this to be a normal school year … We recognize these are exceptional circumstances."