Child and Youth Advocate says keeping schools open is vital for students

·2 min read

Children in New Brunswick have been among the Canadian students most seriously impacted by the long school shutdown caused by the pandemic, said the province's Child and Youth and Seniors' Advocate.

Norm Bossé delivered his seventh State of the Child report Friday, called, "Protecting Child Rights in Times of Pandemic."

Bossé said keeping schools open is vital to helping vulnerable children during the pandemic.

"That's why we're saying, if all else fails, just keep the schools open as long as we can," he said.

Bossé said during the long shutdown in the spring, many students lost more than just education time. They also lost stability and access to vital services, leaving them vulnerable.

"Schools and teachers are at the forefront of making sure that young children and young adults are well," Bossé said.

Talk to the students

If a student has a problem he said, teachers are usually the first to spot it. But Bossé said there's still not enough data being collected about just how students are being affected.

"We do not have any statistics in New Brunswick yet because we haven't gone and asked and engaged those young people in, 'Okay, what did COVID do for you? How did you do at home? How did you do at school?'"

Bossé is recommending the department of education have students fill out surveys about their experiences throughout the pandemic and shutdown, and the effect both have had on their education and their lives.

It's work he said isn't currently being done, but should be right now, and again when the pandemic is over.

"Once we get those statistics we will be able to form a picture to say, 'What was the worst effect on kids? What did not go right in restarting school? What did they suffer most from -- was it the alienation? Not being able to play in the school ground, to get to know their friends again, not to have sleepovers at their friends houses?''

Bossé said he's "very concerned" about students who did not re-enrol when school started again in the fall and recommends that every student who didn't should be contacted and assessed.

According to the Department of Education 2,316 homeschool requests have been approved for this year.

Six recommendations are outlined in the report including the creation of a youth parliament, and the incorporation of the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law, among others.