The provincial government is adding more positions to the English school district, from janitors to guidance counselors to administrators, as Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday for the 16th straight day.
Newly appointed Education Minister Tom Osborne joined the weekly media briefing on the province's pandemic response Wednesday afternoon, providing an update on the province's return-to-school plan which has been criticized by several groups in the wake of its release Aug. 17.
Osborne said custodian work days will be increased from five to seven hours, and the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District will be hiring an additional 25 custodians on a temporary full-time basis.
Osborne also said the province will increase administrative positions by 15.
"This will restore it to the level recommended by the teacher allocation commission led by Brian Shortall in 2008," said Osborne. "It also reverses the decrease in that allocation that was made in 2013."
Osborne said there will also be an increase in school guidance counselors. The province will add 25 more positions this year, which Osborne said meets the 2008 recommendation.
Watch the full Aug. 26 update:
Funding for all additional positions comes from the federal government's return-to-school support package announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier Wednesday.
Newfoundland and Labrador will receive $26.2 million, half of which is provided up front and the remaining issued following a report on where the first $13 million was spent.
"We are advised that we will have flexibility to spend funding according to our own education priorities," said Osborne.
"This may include such areas as adaptation of learning spaces, improving air systems in schools, increased hand sanitation, hygiene and testing, additional cleaning supplies for frequent cleaning and disinfection, [personal protective equipment], support for remote learning, health and safety training."
Osborne said much of that work has already been started.
Parts of the province's back-to-school plan are "living documents," said Osborne, which will be changed as necessary. Last week the province announced 70 substitute teachers would be given contracts and assigned to schools to ensure resources are available when teachers go on leave.
Osborne said the Department of Education is still working through a plan with the school board and unions to find ways to reduce the number of students who will be cut from school bus routes to meet physical distancing guidelines.
"I cannot say at this point how many students, but we are working toward solutions," he said.
Osborne also said school districts will provide cleaning supplies to bus contractors to sanitize their vehicles to keep costs down for those companies.
Adding more teachers to the roster this fall is still up in the air. Osborne said discussions have taken place, and the Department of Education will "operate with the advice of the school districts as well as departmental officials."
As for the Chromebook computers being purchased for students as part of the reopening plan, Osborne said they're still delayed and will be delivered at some point this fall.
Cabin owners allowed in
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald relaxed public health rules further on Wednesday.
As of Aug. 31, Canadians who own a second home or cabin the province are permitted to come to the province through a travel exemption. Proof of home ownership or property tax will be required, as will a 14-day period of self-isolation.
The announcement amends the travel restriction order put in place on May 4. Fitzgerald said the rule was not relaxed earlier in the summer because Canada was seeing a slight uptick in cases. But she says the country is able to manage the small spikes that are occurring, allowing the province to loosen the restriction.
"When we introduced these measures the epidemiology in the rest of Canada was different than what it is now," said Fitzgerald.
"We've learned much about effective mitigation measures to keep our vulnerable population safe."
Wednesday's briefing marked Andrew Furey's first as premier of the province. As of Wednesday 30,807 people have been tested for the virus. Of those, 233 were in the last 24 hours.
Health Minister John Haggie, normally a staple of the live briefings, did not appearing Wednesday. On Aug 20., he had an unspecified medical procedure, and a spokesperson for the Department of Health said he is now recuperating at home, and "is doing well and in good spirits."