It's back to school next week for New Brunswick students, but parents are still wondering what school will look like during a pandemic.
Education officials have been releasing details over the last few weeks, and parents can find most of the information online, but here are some of the important questions answered.
When do students have to wear masks?
- K-5 — masks are not required in class but are encouraged in common areas.
- Grades 6-8 — masks will not be needed in class but are required in common areas.
- Grades 9-12 — if one metre cannot be maintained between students, masks will be required in classrooms. They are also required in common areas.
Students are required to bring two clean face masks with them to school every day.
How will the bus ride change?
Some bus routes and pick up times have changed to allow for fewer students on each bus.
The plan allows only one child per two-passenger seat for kindergarten to Grade 5, except members of the same household. While encouraged, masks are not required for K-5.
But for grades 6 to 12, masks are required if there is more than one child per seat, and those students will have to wear a mask when entering and exiting the bus. They can remove the mask if they're sitting alone or with members of the same household.
Buses will be filled from back to front to reduce the need for students passing each other.
Assigned seating or consistent seating arrangements will be required.
What if my child is vulnerable?
While most high school students will alternate in-school with at-home learning, exceptions will be made for vulnerable students. Immunocompromised students, for example, might be allowed to learn full-time at home.
On the other hand, some students who would benefit from attending school every day will be allowed to do so. This group could include those with unstable home lives, food insecurity, at risk of not completing school, and those with personalized learning plans.
When will students have to physically distance?
That depends on the grade of the students — and some other factors as well.
In K-8, physical distancing is not required within classroom bubbles, but each bubble must keep two metres apart from everyone else.
In Grades 9-12, students have to stay one metre away from each other in the classroom, and two metres from everyone in common areas.
What is blended learning?
Blended learning combines in-school attendance rotating with at-home learning.
When not in school, students are still expected to put in a full school day — attendance is taken and participation is monitored.
What happens if we don't have sufficient internet service at home?
Students with limited or no access to the internet may be permitted to attend school every day — provided the school can accommodate them in another part of the building.
As part of their operational plan, principals have been asked to find alternate learning spaces within the community, such as public libraries, community centres, and other locations that have adequate coverage.
What happens if my high school student doesn't have a device when school starts?
High school students have been asked to provide their own device through the department's bring your own device (BYOD) plan.
Students who don't have a device when school starts could be lent one temporarily. Roughly 11,000 laptops that are currently being used for other purposes could be redeployed for a short time until students get their own.
Will students be responsible for cleaning?
Students in Grades 6−8 are expected to clean and disinfect their desk and chair after each class if they change classrooms.
Students in Grades 9-12 are to clean and disinfect their desk and chair after each class.
Will there be increased COVID-19 testing at schools?
Teachers will be able to request COVID-19 testing — even if they're showing no symptoms.
The asymptomatic testing also covers educational assistants and other support staff but does not include students at this time. Students need only show one symptom to be tested.
Does a child have to self-isolate if they're being tested?
It depends on how many symptoms they have. If they only have one symptom, they can continue to go to school. But if they have two or more, they must stay home and self-isolate, even from members of their own family as much as possible.
What happens if COVID-19 is confirmed in my child's school?
Parents will be notified about a positive test in their school, but no details will be released that could identify the person with the positive test.
Public Health will, through contact tracing and risk management, make decisions on who self-isolates. According to a guide sent to parents, "This may require an individual or several individuals, a classroom or multiple classrooms or even a school population to self-isolate."
How many positive cases will it take to shut an entire school?
There is no pre-set number of cases that would trigger that, but one case wouldn't do it, health officials have said.
The decision to shut a school depends on the circumstances and nature of the outbreak, and each situation will be evaluated individually.
What happens if a student develops COVID symptoms at school?
As part of its operational plan, each school has to set up an area where symptomatic students or staff can wait until they are picked up.
A mask must be worn until they leave the school building, and pick-up must occur within an hour.
What happens if someone in my child's learning group has COVID-19?
All parents in the school will be notified, and Public Health officials will contact anyone who must self-isolate. Public Health will also decide if a class, classes or the entire school needs to be sent home to self-isolate. They will also determine when those people can return to school.
Can extracurricular sports still take place?
All school sports are allowed, although they'll be played in front of fewer spectators, and potentially with fewer players as well.
For all outdoor sports, spectators will be limited to 50, while no one will be allowed to watch indoor sports.
If a sport has a governing body, then the return-to-play rules of that organization will guide the activities, although the education department's ban on spectators inside will trump whatever the governing bodies say about spectators.
In K-8, games will be played between geographically close schools to try to limit the amount of travel.
Will physical education be possible?
Physical education classes will resume for all grade levels, although teachers will be encouraged to use outdoor spaces when possible.
Students in K-8 will stay within their class grouping, or bubble, and not have to physically distance, the same rule that applies in classrooms. Class groupings, however, will have to stay two metres away from other groups, and if two groups are using the gym at the same time, a divider or curtain may be used.
High school students will have to keep one metre away from everyone else — just as they will inside the classroom.
Equipment will be disinfected after each use, and if that's not possible, the equipment will not be used. All students have to use hand sanitizer when entering and leaving the gymnasium.
When are kids not allowed to go to school?
Anyone with two or more symptoms of COVID-19 must stay home and contact 811 to determine whether testing is required. If it is, the person cannot return to school until cleared by Public Health officials.
If testing is not required, they can return once symptoms are absent for 24 hours, or if they have been cleared to do so by a health-care professional.
What if I want to home-school my child and then change my mind?
Parents interested in home-schooling must first get permission from the province. Applications are available on the government's website.
Parents can change their mind part-way through the year and send their child back. Likewise, parents can apply throughout the year to home-school.
Can staff go from bubble to bubble?
Visiting teachers and other school personnel who travel between schools and have contact with students have to maintain a physical distance of two metres in the classroom and in common areas. If that's not possible, community masks will be required.
Supply teachers, for example, are not limited to certain schools or classes. For that reason, there are stricter rules in terms of masks and physical distancing. They also have to keep detailed journals to help with contact tracing.
In K-8 for example, classroom teachers do not have to wear masks inside the class, but supply teachers do. And at all grade levels, music, art and physical education teachers have to maintain one-metre distance, while supply teachers have to keep two metres away.
Will extracurricular activities be permitted?
Most extracurricular school activities, including field trips, will go ahead but those that can be done virtually, such as chess club and student council meetings, will be encouraged to do so.
Will there be music?
The Education Department's Return to School plan says music education should continue when possible, although initially, the government said there would be no singing or playing of wind instruments.
That has now changed. Singing will be allowed, but students will be asked to sing softly or increase their physical distance if singing indoors. Sharing musical instruments will also be allowed, but they must be thoroughly cleaned between uses.
Sharing wind instruments will not be allowed. Wind instruments will be loaned to one student for "a period of several weeks" and must be cleaned under the supervision of the music educator before being loaned to another student.
All extra-curricular music activities are on hold until further notice.
What happens if things get worse?
Teachers must be prepared to deal with closures at any time. Teaching and learning will not stop if a school is closed.
Teachers are required to ensure that all students in K-8 have "distance learning kits" in the event a complete school closure occurs, so that students can continue learning at home for several days.
Students in high school will already be equipped with a device and a routine that will allow learning to continue at home for longer periods of time.
This guide will be updated as more information becomes available.