Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. education minister says students back to class in September

Brian Warr says the full student population will be back in class in the fall. Warr says the Department of Education is consulting public health officials and will release the plan outlining how schools will operate by the end of June.

Promises plan by end of month

Newfoundland and Labrador students will be back in classrooms this fall, says the provincial education minister. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's education minister says the province's full student population will be back in class in September.

Brian Warr told the House of Assembly on Monday afternoon that the Department of Education is consulting public health officials about class sizes and will release a plan by the end of June on how schools will operate.

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

Warr didn't say if that plan would include shifts for students. 

NDP education critic Jim Dinn, a former teacher and president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association, says he's concerned schools won't be ready in time.

"I have some serious questions with regards to cleaning. Do we have sufficient cleaning staff? What will be the cleaning protocols?" Dinn asked.

When students return to class in September class sizes and physical distancing may be an issue. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Even if there are smaller class sizes in September, he said, it will be difficult to implement physical distancing, adding that schools that reopened in Quebec have seen COVID-19 cases. 

"We may very well have to hire more teachers to make this work," he said.

Progressive Conservative education critic Craig Pardy agreed, saying physical distancing in schools will be difficult, especially for younger students.

"From the handwashing, to not putting anything in their mouths, not sharing things," he said.

Opposition members asked how much more education will cost next year, if more teachers, and modular classrooms are needed for extra space.

But the education minister said he couldn't give an answer.

Education Minister Brian Warr says students will be back to a full curriculum and public exams. (House of Assembly)

"I can't provide you with that particular figure here," said Warr. "We're committed as a government to getting our children back in schools where they belong.

"We want to make sure that we're nimble, just in case we get another curveball thrown at us."

Internet access a problem

A second wave of COVID-19 could be that curveball and Pardy said he's concerned about how poor Internet access will affect students and teachers in rural areas of the province, if schools shut down again.

Pardy said one of his constituents in Southern Bay had issues using online learning app Google Classroom when the pandemic started because their Internet connection was inadequate

"It would freeze up, they would lose the voice part of the transmission," Pardy said.

Pardy wants to see the province's plan to improve the Internet, and he says the province has lost the opportunity to train teachers how to deliver courses online

"All of June should have been involved with [professional learning]," he said.

NDP MHA Jim Dinn says he's concerned about cleaning and physical distancing in schools. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Dinn said not all families can afford high-speed internet or data packages.

"How do you level the playing field? What are the resources that are going to be put out there for parents and teachers alike?" he asked.

Increasing broadband in the province falls to Industry and Innovation Minister Bernard Davis. 

"It's a problem right across the island," said Davis.

He said the provincial government is working with telecommunications companies and the federal government to improve broadband.

"They've got several billion dollars involved in this process over a period of time that they want to get out to the provinces," he said, but added he can't promise improvements overnight.

Industry and Innovation Minister Bernard Davis says the provincial government is working with telecommunications companies and the federal government to improve broadband internet access. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"Telecommunication companies can't put lines or put technology in place in a two-month period," said Davis.

"To be quite honest it's not going to be available by September in every part of our province."

Warr said the school district issued hundreds of portable Wi-Fi devices and iPads with data cards to students, and he hopes the connectivity issues get fixed.

"Our plan is to have the resources put in place for all students," he said

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain

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