School year starts soon without masks or other reminders of COVID-19

·4 min read
School and won't be much dfferent from that last few weeks before summer vacation. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
School and won't be much dfferent from that last few weeks before summer vacation. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

New Brunswick kids are starting school restriction-free for the first time in two years.

Students start returning to class on Sept. 6, and back-to-school preparations can go back to how they were pre-COVID-19.

There are no mask, distancing or cleaning mandates and no outbreak protocols, according to the Department of Education.

Students have already had a taste of what that's like last spring, after New Brunswick removed all COVID-19 restrictions in March.

The move had parents divided. Some were happy their children can go back to the regular school experience, while others continued to be concerned about their children catching COVID-19 in school and becoming sick.

Thousands of COVID-19 cases weekly

Since restrictions were lifted in March, the province has recorded thousands of positive tests each week.

Since March 28 this year, 89 people have died. A total of 447 people in New Brunswick have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic was declared in 2020.

In April, 19 New Brunswick pediatricians wrote an open letter to the government calling for the return of universal masking in schools and for preschool staff.

And as the 2022 fall semester approaches, parents, some with immunocompromised children, continue to be concerned.

But like Nova Scotia and other provinces, New Brunswick is taking the no-restriction route, encouraging people who want to wear a mask to do so.

Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Elliott said getting vaccinated and getting up-to-date boosters "is the most effective way you can avoid serious illness."

According to figures the department collected on July 19, 87.3 per cent of children aged 12 to 19 years had their first dose, while 81.9 per cent had their second dose.

For children five to 11 years old, 56.7 per cent had their first dose, while 40.1 per cent have had their second dose.

Roughly 20.3 per cent of students aged 12 to 19 have had their third dose.

Elliott said if a student or staff member tests positive for the virus, they should follow New Brunswick's regular guidance: Register your positive test, stay home until you have been fever-free for 24 hours and with no diarrhea or vomiting for 48 hours without medication, and wear a mask for at least five days after you feel better, or 10 days if you're immunocompromised.

These are all recommendations and aren't mandatory.

Districts feel labour pinch, but adequately staffed

New Brunswick school districts are hiring and recruiting supply teachers, but all districts that have answered a CBC News request for information say they're adequately staffed.

Anglophone east, south and west say they have enough teachers to welcome back students this fall. Anglophone west is still conducting interviews to fill 10 French immersion teacher positions.

"We interview for supply teaching staff on a monthly basis, 11 months out of the year," said Anglophone South superintendent Zoë Watson.

"We also hire local permit supply staff  (i.e. those who have a university degree, but not in education) and retirees to bolster our list."

David Bell/CBC
David Bell/CBC

Watson said the challenge doesn't necessarily come from not having enough supply teachers on the roster, but rather when they aren't able to fill the vacancies, "whether due to illness, isolation, or otherwise."

"During the pandemic, casuals were not opting to take as many assignments," she said. "For the upcoming year, we have continued to add to our supply/casual lists and we would hope to see more supply teachers and casuals readily taking on more assignments."

She said there are specific subject areas, specifically French and trades, as well as remote geographical areas, where recruiting "can be more challenging.

"But we plan to have everyone assigned and in role for start up."

Bus drivers are also in demand.

Anglophone West has recruited 14 new drivers for the Fredericton and Oromocto areas

Anglophone South has 24 new bus drivers in its current training course.

Luc Caron, superintendent of francophone Nord-Ouest, said he's hoping fo a return to normal this summer. Enrolment has increased by 12 students, to 5,013 students, in his district. All 61 bus driver positions have been filled, with 25 extra people to fill in.

The list of supply teachers, however, is pretty short, he said, and recruitment is underway.

Caron said he absolutely expects more challenges, COVID-19 related and not, but says the district has learned a lot in the last two years and feels more prepared.