Nfld. & Labrador

Tardy slip: N.L. government misses deadline for back-to-school plan

Newfoundland and Labrador's education minister said there would be a plan by the end of June for having students back in classrooms this fall.

Parents and PC education critic want details

Plans for returning to school this fall are still being finalized, but parents want details now. (François Gagnon/Radio-Canada)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government has missed its own deadline for revealing an education plan for students to return to school this fall.

On June 15, Education Minister Brian Warr told the House of Assembly students would be back in class in September, and said a plan would be released by the end of June for how schools will operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that July has arrived, PC education critic Craig Pardy wants to know where the plan is.

"We've been 100 days waiting for the plan. I think that's an ample amount of time, and probably the most pressing issue that we're facing in the district of Bonavista," said Pardy, who is MHA for the area. 

"We have a lot of anxious parents that are wondering as to what happens in September."

In mid-June, Warr told the House of Assembly the full student population will be back in class in September.

"We're looking at doing the full curriculum and having public exams next year," Warr told the House of Assembly at the time. 

PC education critic Craig Pardy is calling on Education Minister Brian Warr to release the provincial government's back-to-school plan immediately. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

In a statement to CBC News on Thursday, the Department of Education said government's plan is almost ready.

"Work is in the final stages and a comprehensive plan will be released in the coming days. The department is very much focused on planning for September and has been working with the school districts, NLTA and public health.  We look forward to providing a comprehensive plan which will help the school districts and parents prepare for the fall," the statement reads. 

Uncertainty

Mother of two Nikita Doucet says a lot of parents have a lot of uncertainty right now. She wonders what the schedule for her five-year-old will look like this fall — part time? Full time? In class, online, or a hybrid?

Because there's no plan yet, she said, she can't tell her employer when she will be able to return to work full time.

"Right now I'm doing what I can, but right now I can't even tell them starting in September I'll be to work Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-three, because I don't know that," she said.

"Is September going to roll around, and I'm not going to be working still? I don't know."

Nikita Doucet, a mother of two, says she can't tell her employer when she will be available to work again without a plan for school this fall. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador Teacher's Association said in a statement the education plan for September must be developed through careful consideration of public health guidelines, as well as the health and safety of students, teachers and staff, and not by an arbitrary date.

Ideal plan

Pardy had previously said he would like to see in-person instruction pick up again this fall. But the opening of the province's borders to other Atlantic provinces on Friday — and potentially to the rest of Canada later this month — could change things, if there's a spike in cases.

Student transportation is also an important issue that Pardy said has to be part of government's plan for the fall, and Doucet said she, too, has concerns about busing.

"If there's limited class sizes and stuff, are they even going to run the buses?" she said.

Transportation is among some of the concerns for parents as the beginning of the school year draws closer. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Pardy, who was a teacher for 30 years, says he believes that after more than three months, he's sure the government has a plan ready.

"We just need to see what it is, and I think parents, in order to reduce the anxiety, need to have a look at it," said Pardy.

"I would love to be able to share with you one part of the plan. I'm not at liberty to do that because I was never apprised as to what was even being considered, or even to debate, or discuss or collaborate on before its release."

One thing that is known is that schools were advised that they will need to minimize the sharing of high-touch items.

"Teachers were encouraged to critically assess what will be a minimal supply that both allows curriculum outcomes to be achieved, and is manageable from a hygiene point of view for continued student and staff safety," said the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District in a statement.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Heather Gillis

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