Opposition calls for changes to N.L. school plan following leaked report
Critics say it's 'disappointing' provincial government didn't pay more attention to recommendations
The House of Assembly's education critics slammed the Liberal government Friday over a leaked three-month-old report from the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District that flagged potential problems with returning students to class.
NDP MHA Jim Dinn said he's been hearing a lot of anxiety from all levels — parents, teachers and students — over the coming school year.
"To find out that a plan existed four months ago, or we had the basis of a plan, and we could have been addressing these anxieties and coming up with a reasonable plan," he said.
"It's frustrating and it's definitely disappointing to find out government sat on it."
As first reported by the CBC, the school district's 47-page document suggested that under public health guidelines, a full return to classrooms might not be possible. In order to maintain physical distancing, noted the report, most classrooms would only be able to hold half the students.
It suggested a blended or hybrid model that would see students split into groups and alternate between classroom and at-home learning. But what the province ultimately went with is a three-tiered plan designed to offer a different scenario depending on the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the province.
The first scenario — the one in place for when classes resume Sept. 9 — sees students returning to classrooms with physical distancing.
The second is a hybrid of in-class and online instruction, and the third cancelling in-school classes and shifting to almost entirely at-home instruction.
PC education critic Craig Pardy said Friday the government should have gone with option two from the beginning, at least for grades 10 to 12. If high schools adopted the blended model, he said, there would be less need for child care while students were learning at home.
"The busing situation would be looked after, the safety part of the students within the high school system," he said. "The hybrid model would make it a lot more palatable to parents, and students, even those who were concerned about returning due to underlying conditions."
Dinn agreed with going with the second scenario, and said the school district laid that out clearly three months ago.
"A staggered approach would allow students and staff to get used to this new normal."
May report only part of the picture, says Osborne
But Education Minister Tom Osborne says the May report from the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District was only one part of what went into the final plan.
Osborne said the first he heard of the report was when Dinn asked about it two days ago, and said he can't speak to what was done with it prior to that. Osborne took over from Brian Warr as minister of education on Aug. 19.
While the NLESD report was important, he said, it was based on pandemic conditions current as of three months ago, and was written before consultation with other stakeholders such as the Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald.
"Based on the evolution of the pandemic and where we are today, with very low prevalence of COVID-19 in the province and no community spread, the advice of the CMO is that it is better to have all children in school."
When the report was presented to the province, there were two active cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
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