N.L. school classes to stay online for at least another week, Education Department says
Education officials looking at implementing rapid testing
An unrelenting provincewide COVID-19 outbreak will keep schools across Newfoundland and Labrador closed to most students for at least another week, education officials said Thursday.
Premier Andrew Furey announced the decision to move K-12 classes online on Dec. 29 to wait out the ongoing spike in case counts, promising weekly updates.
Education Minister Tom Osborne has repeatedly said that returning to in-person learning remains the province's priority.
"It's better for kids to get back into class as quickly as we can," he told CBC News on Wednesday.
The department says it will offer another update Jan. 13, and in a media release Thursday said it's working with the Health Department to distribute rapid tests to school administrators.
"It is anticipated that rapid testing will play a role in the resumption of classes in the coming weeks, as well as for the ongoing operations of schools going forward," the statement said.
"Details on how these tests will be used are still being finalized, and the department expects to provide an update with further details next week."
The Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association said in a media release later Thursday that it supports the department's decision.
"Right now is not the time to resume in-person learning," president Trent Langdon said in a statement, noting that "many students struggle to comply" with public health rules such as masking and physical distancing.
The release cited operational deficits, such as a shortage of substitute teachers, that the union says prevents safe reopening, and said it welcomed the department's plan for deploying rapid testing.
MUN mostly online
Meanwhile, Memorial University president Vianne Timmons told CBC News that most classes will employ remote learning until at least Jan. 31, with the exception of the performing arts and practicums, which will continue in person.
Post-secondary classes on all campuses also moved online amid the most recent outbreak. However, the university's libraries and dining halls remain open to students, and while faculty are encouraged to work from home, their offices remain open and they can work from campus if they wish.
"People are really discouraged that we have to go through this again," Timmons said.
"It's not our preferred mode of delivery, but when we did have to go online we saw an increase in student retention.… I'm not worried about the quality of education, but I am worried about mental health."
The school-mandated double vaccination among staff and students last year, leading to an "exceptional" vaccination rate, Timmons said.
University officials are considering a requirement for booster shots, she added.