N.B.'s back-to-school plan to cost tens of millions
HALIFAX -- New Brunswick's education minister says COVID-19 measures will cost tens of millions of dollars – at least – to send students back to school. While it is an expensive move, it's a step Dominic Cardy says is necessary so that children receive their education after not being in class since March.
With class back in session on September 8, Cardy wants to ensure the return is as normal as possible.
"Getting to school is going to be a bit different, moving in between classes, getting in and out of a building is going to be a bit different," says Cardy. "But, in terms of their actual experience being in a class, working with a teacher – that's going to be as close to normal as we can possibly get."
From kindergarten to middle school, students will learn in smaller groups or a bubble. Meanwhile, high school students will be doing a "one day on-one day off" blended learning model – all causing a strain on the original education budget.
Currently, $20 million is being spent on cleaning supplies and additional janitorial staff, while $13 million is being spent on technology, such as laptops for students and online learning. Additionally, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is hiring more teachers and bus drivers, but Cardy doesn't know how many or the cost yet.
"We're going to be looking at additional tens of millions of dollars of investments in education to make sure we can have a safe return to school," says Cardy.
While Cardy won't yet say if masks will be required, or what the case threshold will be to force a school to close, he notes those decisions are coming.
New Brunswick Teachers' Association president, Rick Cuming, says he's still looking for answers.
"There are still many questions about how bubbles, either with reduced class sizes or with regular class sizes in middle school, will allow them to be safe," said Cuming, in a statement. "Teachers need to hear from medical experts that the return to school plan will assure their safety and those of their students."
Parents of students are also hoping to learn more about the plan for a return to school.
Denise Miller, the mother of a high school student, says she believes everyone is trying to make the return as safe as possible – but she's looking for more information.
"You know how kids are always getting colds and stuff? Like, what's the protocol for that?" says Miller. "If they come in with a runny nose, will they have to stay home for two weeks?"
However, Cardy says, if schools are open, students are supposed to be in attendance.
"Unless you have a medical reason for not attending school, the expectation is that you attend," says Cardy.
Meanwhile, New Brunswick's education budget was originally $1.35 billion. Cardy notes some money has been saved as schools have been closed for nearly five months – but says the extra spending is the cost of safety during a pandemic.