The week's tweaks to the province's back-to-school plan are being met with mostly positive reviews from people and groups who previously criticized it, although some questions remain.
"The government made some steps in the right direction, definitely," said Catherine Stone, a mother of two in Bay Roberts who had taken part in Tuesday's protest at Confederation Building with about 100 other parents and teachers.
Hours prior to that protest, Education Minister Tom Osborne announced changes to the start of the school year, including cancelling January exams and masks in classrooms for Grades 7 through 12 where physical distancing isn't possible. That announcement was followed Thursday by more adjustments, including spending $10 million on 100 more school buses.
Dave Callahan, who represents the Newfoundland and Labrador School Bus Operators Group, said that move helps ease many of his concerns about students returning to school.
He was more impressed with Osborne admitting the school bus system has been "a state" — something drivers have been saying for several years.
"I was really impressed he would take a look at what was obvious to us in the busing industry but never really admitted to by government before," Callahan said. "It showed somebody who was listening."
Contractors have struggled to hire and retain drivers, with some looking for higher paying jobs. The industry has had other issues, including a rash of criminal charges against bus operators in 2017 over falsified inspection reports.
Osborne has promised to take a look at broader busing issues when the province is in a position to focus on something other than the pandemic.
Callahan said he still has concerns about the number of children allowed on a bus, but said that could be alleviated with additional buses and changes to routes.
"I still think 46 is too high. I'm not going to go back on that, but I applaud the new efforts," he said.
The changes come just days before students begin returning to class on Sept. 9.
Dean Ingram, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association, was also satisfied by many of Osborne's announcements on Thursday.
Ingram was pleased to see a commitment to hire 10 new teachers, extend student assistant hours and offer teachers things like acrylic desk surrounds.
"There's progress," Ingram said. "The measures that were announced certainly move our province's schools in the right direction."
Class size concerns
One thing Ingram still has concerns with is Osborne's dismissal of reducing class sizes.
The education minister said it would be too costly, and there is no need right now as the risk of contracting the virus in the province is low.
"There is a cost. But then the question is, what is the cost to not act on it?" Ingram said.
Ingram isn't alone in that sentiment. With her two kids back in school next week, Stone said distancing is top of mind, even if the virus itself is scarce.
"I know that our prevalence is low, and we're so lucky for that, but that doesn't mean that won't change at any time," she told Here & Now.
"I'd prefer that we were proactive, and prepared for that with smaller class sizes from the get go, as opposed to trying to react to that later, should an outbreak occur."
The NLTA has been pushing for an independent review of the teacher allocation model for several years, frustrated with growing class sizes long before the pandemic.
While Ingram admitted now is not the best time to do it, he's still frustrated the education department didn't act sooner on its education plan for September.
"Had we seen the progress three months ago that we've seen the last three weeks, we'd be much closer to bridging those gaps."
Facing her Bay Roberts classroom for the first time this week, Grade 1 teacher Jillian Reid said she was "pretty angry" over what she sees as a dismissal of the importance of class sizes.
"This really shows us that the minister of education does not understand that smaller class sizes is pivotal to education," she said.
As the week ends under different back-to-school circumstances, Reid said teachers trying to prepare are finding it nearly impossible.
"The amount of uncertainty that is provided to us, the lack of a plan on the ground floor of how we are going to run things, the fact that things that government has said are put in place are not yet put in place — it makes me feel very overwhelmed," she said.