Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. adds $10M for extra buses, 10 online teachers for sick kids

Here are the new changes: 10 new teachers for online learning, five new nurses in schools and an extra $10 million to restore busing to the level it was before last month's announcement that 6,000 kids were losing their seats.

Also adds 5 public health nurses, extended hours for student assistants

Education Minister Tom Osborne speaks to reporters at Waterford Valley High in St. John's on Thursday afternoon. (CBC)

Education Minister Tom Osborne says there is now a contingency plan for students who have to stay home from school for health reasons and more money has been found for extra school buses. 

Ten new teachers will be hired full time to provide online learning resources to students who are immunocompromised or must stay home to quarantine.

Those students will require a note from their doctor saying they cannot attend school for an extended period of time.

In addition, five public health nurses will be hired for the province's schools.

Osborne also announced that about $10 million will be spent on 100 additional school buses to ensure all kids who need busing will have a ride to school.

The money for all new initiatives is funded by a $26.1-million federal grant for COVID-19 relief in schools. Osborne said the province hasn't used all of that money yet, and is keeping some in a reserve in case the pandemic worsens in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Other changes include students assistants having their hours extended to ensure students with disabilities have more help, and to prevent student assistants from moving between classrooms or between schools.

Osborne said he's been assured by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District that all ventilation systems have been serviced. He also said more occupational health and safety resources will be added, but didn't go into specifics during his speech.

The announcement was made at Waterford Valley High in St. John's Thursday afternoon. 

Osborne slams bus plan

Osborne, who has been education minister for less than a month, took a shot at the busing component of the return-to-school plan that was released just before he took over.

The plan stated that the 46 kids living on the farthest end of each bus route would be picked up, while the rest of the students would have to find another way. It's not clear if there were any contingencies in the works at the time the plan was released.

"Make no mistake: I am well aware that busing was a mess," Osborne said. "Myself and the premier have had several discussions, very disappointed with the fact that these issues were there."

When things calm down, Osborne said, he intends to find out how the mess was created.

"The most important thing now is getting students in school safely, getting schools open safely. There will be a time to do a deep dive on when and where things went wrong, and I fully intend to do that."

Newfoundland and Labrador has committed between $10 million and $11 million for additional buses. The goal is to allow students to physically distance while ensuring every child has a ride to school. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The province is allowing the NLESD to accept buses that are one year beyond their expiry date, if they can pass inspection.

That will allow contractors to add more buses without having to shop around. Many busing contractors, however, have ordered buses both from within and outside the province.

Osborne said the actual number of buses could be more or less than 100, but said he's been assured they'll be able to accommodate every student in the province who needs a ride to school.

Reducing class sizes necessary?

Teachers have been loud and clear since the province's education plan was released that they are uncomfortable with the number of kids in their classes.

It's been an issue in the province long before a pandemic reared its ugly head, but has been exacerbated by fears of spreading the virus in close quarters.

Osborne said there is no easy or affordable solution.

"It's not like there's another Waterford Valley High just down the road where we can send students," he said after the announcement Thursday.

When pressed on what other jurisdictions are doing to curb classroom sizes, Osborne questioned whether it's necessary, given the low prevalence of COVID-19 in the province and the lack of community transmission.

"Even if we had an extra billion dollars to spend, would it make sense to spend it when we have no community prevalence?"

The province has one active case of COVID-19 and has had 269 cases in total.

Osborne also briefly spoke about measures to make teachers more comfortable in the classroom if they have underlying health conditions.

He said measures like surrounding desks with Plexiglas could be possible, and would be handled through the same channels as any other workplace accommodations.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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