New Brunswick

Teachers seek investment in COVID measures for safe return to in-person classes

The New Brunswick Teachers' Association is calling upon the government to adopt several new COVID-19 measures at public schools and reinstate several others before students return to in-person learning, currently scheduled for Jan. 31.

Province should supply KN95 masks, hire all supply teachers, release report on ventilation, says union

Connie Keating, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, said teachers want clear minimum safety standards set for in-person learning. (Zoom interview )

The New Brunswick Teachers' Association is calling upon the government to adopt several new COVID-19 measures at public schools and reinstate several others before students return to in-person learning, currently scheduled for Jan. 31.

Among the changes it wants to see are KN95 masks being supplied for all teachers, staff and students, along with safety glasses or face shields for school personnel. 

The province should also hire all available supply teachers to reduce interruptions for families because of staff shortages due to isolation and illness, make the most recent report on ventilation in schools public, and "commit to a timely and transparent response," the association said in a statement Monday.

The province needs to "prioritize a safe and operationally sound plan" for a return to in-person classes, the professional association, which represents about 6,500 teachers, said.

"By working together now to put these measures in place, we can all help New Brunswick's publicly funded public education system resume in-person learning safely for all students as soon as possible following the January 31st deadline."

Department of Education officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The association also wants the government to set a clear minimum standard for safely staffing schools, which, if not achieved, triggers an operational school closure for health and safety reasons.

In addition, it's seeking a report on the number of teachers who are experiencing burnout or choosing to leave the profession early, which it says has increased, as well as an action plan on how teacher shortages will be addressed in the short- and long-term.

New Brunswick students are scheduled to continue learning from home until Jan. 31, under Level 3 of the province's COVID-19 winter plan. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

The current situation, which sees individual teachers doing both in-person and online teaching at the same time, is causing a disservice to students, is confusing for families and "demoralizing and confusing for teachers," the association said.

"If left unaddressed, this will compound the existing teacher shortage," it warned.

The other "required" new COVID measures, according to the association, include:

  • Make masking mandatory for everyone
  • Facilitate easier access to boosters for teachers and staff
  • Reduce class sizes to make physical distancing easier

Old measures that it says helped protect schools in the COVID response during the last school year and should be reinstated include:

  • A return to classroom and playground bubbles and smaller class sizes (fall 2020)
  • Enhanced cleaning of school buildings (fall 2020)
  • A return to rotational attendance for any schools or classrooms where numbers are too large for appropriate distancing, "as a last resort"
  • A redeployment of any teachers within the system who are not in schools to classrooms to help address teacher shortages due to increased sick leaves caused by isolation and COVID outbreaks (fall 2020) 
  • Prioritized accessibility to vaccinations for all staff and eligible students (spring 2021-present)
  • Readily accessible rapid tests for school staff and students (fall 2021) 

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