Back to school, but not quite back to normal, for N.B. students next week

·3 min read
Kami McLean, 13, is looking forward to the return of activities that were scrubbed last year, including drama class and clubs. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)
Kami McLean, 13, is looking forward to the return of activities that were scrubbed last year, including drama class and clubs. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)

For Kami McLean, this school year brings a sense of uncertainty – and a cautious hope for some semblance of normalcy with a return to some of her favourite activities.

"Drama, clubs, we didn't get to do them last year."

McLean, 13, who will be going into Grade 8, said she's looking forward to being in the classroom and resuming activities that weren't possible last year because of physical distancing requirements and other COVID-19 restrictions.

"It was different because of COVID, but it was good having my bubble in class and getting to bond with people," she said.

McLean and other Fredericton-area students and parents spoke to CBC about how they are feeling ahead of the first day back in the classroom on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

For many, the anticipation was tinged with caution.

Back-to-school guidelines

When McLean steps into the classroom next week, she will no longer be in a bubble, according to new guidelines for those entering grades kindergarten to 8.

Because COVID-19 vaccines for students under 12 have not yet been approved, there will be a range of safety measures in place, including no in-person assemblies, reducing congestion in hallways, and using outdoor spaces when possible.

The guidelines for the upcoming school year were announced in a news briefing on Aug. 20 by Education Minister Dominic Cardy and Dr. Cristin Muecke, the deputy chief medical officer of health.

The safety measures differ between student groups, but all students must wear a mask on school buses and indoor common areas outside class.

Students will also have to regularly disinfect their own desks.

"Vaccines have allowed New Brunswickers to return to living a life that is much closer to normal over the past few months, but we will still be living with COVID-19, especially while those under 12 are waiting for an approved vaccine," Cardy said during the news briefing.

High school students will return to full-time, in-person learning.

Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC

But the lifting of restrictions will be dependent on vaccination levels, and will remain in place until the fully vaccinated rate among 12- to 19-year-olds in a health zone reaches 90 per cent.

On Thursday, the government's COVID-19 dashboard said 72.1 per cent of people in the 12-to-19 age group have received their first dose of a vaccine, and 59.3 per cent have received two.

Students have already had time to get used to much of what's being mandated for this year.

"I think it's good, I mean I had to do it [masking] all year last year and it was pretty easy for me," McLean said.

Parental concerns

Asmaa Abdel Sanad and her nine-year-old son, Mohab El Shamwy, are looking forward to the new school year with mixed emotions.

"I'm very excited, but a little bit worried because of the increasing new cases of COVID and new variants," Abdel Sanad said. "Especially the news telling [us] that maybe the younger kids would be more vulnerable."

Her son, meanwhile, is looking forward to getting together with his pals again.

Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC

"I am happy because now that we're in the Green zone," he said. "I think maybe this year we can play in all the zones so I can play with my friends."

For 13-year-old Cooper Pickard, going into Grade 9 brings the hope of a fresh start.

He's looking forward to a year with fewer restrictions, especially on socializing with friends.

"We couldn't really see our friends outside of the classroom [last year], so it definitely sucked," he said.

"But, you know, new opportunities this year, it'll just be a lot different and better."

Mrinali Anchan/CBC
Mrinali Anchan/CBC
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