N.B. Teachers' Association asks for stronger COVID-19 measures in schools, province says many are already in place
The New Brunswick Teachers' Association is calling on the government to reinstate COVID-19 measures and add new ones before students return to in-person learning, which is currently scheduled to happen on Jan. 31.
The association requests that teachers, staff, and students be provided with the highest quality of masks, such as KN95 masks. It also asks that all school personnel are provided safety glasses and face shields.
"We continue to advocate for a return to school. Online learning is certainly just a Band-Aid for now," said Connie Keating, president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association. "We need to have students back in school safely."
In a release, the association says it also wants former safety precautions reinstated, such as classroom and playground bubbles, as well as enhanced cleaning and readily accessible rapid tests.
"Currently, they (tests) are very difficult to basically get our hands on, so it would be important that we would be able to have those rapid tests at school," explained Keating. "The current distribution hours and the actual shortage of them makes it very inconvenient for teachers to be able to access them."
Another "requirement" on the association's list is that government hires all available supply teachers to be deployed each day to reduce interruptions for families due to staffing shortages.
"So that there's the least amount of interruptions to families because of staff shortages that are occurring certainly because of COVID and other illnesses,” Keating said.
Other new measures that the association says are required, include:
- make masking mandatory for everyone in schools
- facilitate easier access to boosters for teachers and staff
- enhance the ability to physical distance by reducing class sizes at all levels
- make public the most recent report of ventilation in New Brunswick schools and commit to a timely and transparent response
"We need to enhance the ability within our schools for our students and staff to social distance and so in looking at a plan that was in place last year for reducing class sizes... we have large schools who really struggle in what we would say is crowd control,” Keating said.
Former measures that the association would like to see reinstated, include:
- The return to rotational attendance for any schools or classrooms where numbers are too large for appropriate distancing, as a last resort.
- The redeployment of any teachers within the system who are not in schools to classrooms to help address teacher shortages due to increased sick leaves caused by isolation and COVID outbreaks (fall 2020).
- Prioritized accessibility to vaccinations for all staff and eligible students (spring 2021-present).
The association also wants the government to set a minimum standard for safely staffing schools, which, if not achieved, triggers an operational school closure for health and safety reasons.
A statement released late Tuesday from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Learning said “many of the measures requested by teachers are already well underway.”
The release went on to say, “The department has secured a supply of non-fit-tested respirators (masks), such as KN95, for school personnel to use during the first few weeks back for in-person learning.”
The department says it also announced in December 2021 that classroom bubbles would be reinstated for K-8 classes following the holiday break, adding that the Christmas break began early to allow time for schools to plan and implement those changes.
According to the department, booster doses were also made available early to teachers.
"Teachers were given early access to booster shots, becoming eligible for their third dose in December. Superintendents have also been advised to be flexible with staff scheduling to allow time to get their shots," wrote the Department of Education and Early Childhood Learning in a release.
The department says it also retained a consultant, RPC Science and Engineering, to review, research and make recommendations regarding the potential use of HEPA filtration units in schools.
"The report has recently been completed and we will have more to share on this next week," wrote the department. "A different review led to air quality tests being carried out in schools which districts report do not have an integrated mechanical ventilation system. The tests were conducted under the conditions most likely to create a CO2 buildup in schools: during the winter heating season (2020-21) and with classrooms occupied."
Detailed results and summaries from those tests are available online.
Some parents in New Brunswick say they would prefer not to see the return of strict COVID-19 measures in schools.
"I know everyone is doing their best to keep everyone safe but I just look at it from my kids' point of view and like, my kids haven't seen their friends smile in almost two years,” said Kate Hunter, a parent in Fredericton.
Other parents want measures ramped up for the safety of students and teachers.
"There's absolutely no reason that in New Brunswick we need to settle. We should be pressing to have these protections in place,” said Mark Burnett, a parent and educator in Rothesay, N.B.
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