FREDERICTON -- School districts throughout New Brunswick sent students home early on Monday, amid soaring temperatures and heat warnings for the central and southern regions of the province.

“In schools which would be baking hot at the best of times,” says New Brunswick education minister Dominic Cardy, “especially with COVID measures that place restrictions in the use of some of the ventilations systems, that ban the use of fans for example – clearly that would put students in a really difficult position.”

The Anglophone West District announced early Monday morning that 64 of the 69 schools would be dismissing three hours earlier than the usual dismissal time due to extreme temperatures.

The five remaining schools – Nasis Middle, Royal Road Elementary, Harvey High, McAdam High and Minto Elementary Middle schools – were not impacted because they have cooling systems, according to a social media post from the school district.

Cardy says a policy has now been put in place, allowing school districts to send students home for a “heat day.”

“The districts now have a tool, similar to the one they have to declare a snow day in the winter time, to declare a heat day based on a 40-degree-plus humidex reading,” explained Cardy.

All schools in the Anglophone East school district were dismissed early on Monday as well, and elementary school students were picked up for the day around 12:15 p.m.

“I was actually kind of nervous sending them in,” says Nicole Best, a mother in the Moncton area. “Because I kind of figured that they were either going to A – cancel it, or B – I’d have to come and pick them up in the heat.”

In the Anglophone South district, St. Stephen Middle, St. Stephen High, St. Stephen Elementary, Milltown Elementary and Lawrence Station closed for students at noon, while Sussex Middle, Sussex Elementary, Sussex Corner Elementary, Apohaqui Elementary and Norton Elementary dismissed students at 1 p.m. – and Sussex Regional at 2:30 p.m.

While students were dismissed, teachers remained in schools for the remainder for the day.

“The goal is to get as many people out of the buildings as possible,” says Cardy. “Make those buildings a bit cooler and allow the teachers not to have to move around but to do some prep work and so on.”

Although a heat warning is in effect for most of Nova Scotia, schools in that province did not see any early dismissals – a decision that is causing concern for the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, who says this is a potentially high-risk situation for students and staff.

“If it’s not safe for children to be masking in extreme heat, we can’t be sending them into school buildings where we know it’s going to be 40 [degrees],” says Paul Wozney.

“There’s no ventilation … we’ve got a collision of what’s medically unsafe and what’s unsafe from a Public Health perspective.” ​