FREDERICTON (GNB) – Education and Early Childhood Development has released Healthy and Safe Schools guidelines for the public school system.
They outline the requirements schools and school districts must meet to provide a safe return to school for students and staff. It may be changed throughout the school year in conjunction with Public Health guidance to the department and new information.
“Vaccines have allowed New Brunswickers to return to living a life that is much closer to normal over the past few months, but we will still be living with COVID-19, especially while those under 12 are waiting for an approved vaccine,” said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy. “We have learned a lot through the past year, and our plans have allowed students to learn with minimal disruptions, limited cases in schools and very few in-school transmissions. Our guidelines have been updated with the goal of keeping our schools healthy, safe and as close to normal as possible for students and staff, particularly those under 12 or those who cannot be immunized, in the face of evolving research and new variants.”
Based on the lessons and experience of the past year, the guidelines focus on core protective health measures, such as vaccination, enhanced cleaning, mask use, and good hygiene practices, while outlining processes for managing outbreaks in schools.
There will also be more opportunity for activities such as normal music classes, field trips, and extra-curricular or intramural activities at all grade levels.
“Getting vaccinated is the surest and most effective way to protect yourselves, your family and your community from the COVID-19 virus,” said Dr. Cristin Muecke, deputy chief medical officer.
As employees of the provincial government, school and district staff will be required to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.
Vaccination for students 12 and older is strongly encouraged. The department worked with Public Health last spring to allow more opportunities for eligible students and school staff to be vaccinated. Work with partners to increase vaccine access throughout the education system will continue during the coming year, particularly once a vaccine becomes available for children under 12.
Kindergarten to Grade 8
Kindergarten to Grade 8 will no longer have small class sizes or be grouped into classroom bubbles. However, since COVID-19 vaccines for students under 12 have not yet been approved, additional protections will be implemented. These include wearing masks in indoor common areas; reducing congestion in hallways; conducting virtual assemblies or concerts; limiting visitors and community use of schools; encouraging outdoor activities when weather permits; and students regularly disinfecting their desks.
High school students will return to full-time, in-person learning. While assemblies will be permitted, students and school personnel must be masked and will host smaller assemblies and use outdoor spaces when possible. Visitors will be limited and students will regularly disinfect their workspaces.
As vaccination rates vary around the province, additional layers of protection will be put in place, by health region, based on youth vaccination rates. These include students and staff using masks in common areas and limiting community use of schools to youth-based groups and organizations. These measures will be lifted, by region, once 90 per cent of those in the 12-19 age group have received two doses of an approved vaccine.
Face mask use
Masks have been an important layer of protection in reducing the spread of COVID-19, as well as other respiratory illnesses. Students of all ages will be required to wear a mask on school buses, in addition to other requirements set out by age group.
If students or school personnel have one symptom, they should wear a mask. In the event of an outbreak, Public Health may require students and staff to wear masks throughout the day. Students in kindergarten to Grade 8 will be required to leave a clean mask at school. Schools will have a supply of masks in case of an outbreak.
Cleaning and good hygiene
Frequently touched areas of the school will be disinfected daily and students will be asked to keep their desks clean. Staff will continue to teach students good respiratory etiquette and hygiene practices, such as coughing into your elbow and washing your hands frequently.
Students and staff will continue to wash or sanitize their hands regularly, including whenever they enter the classroom, after they use the washroom and before or after meals or outdoor play.
If students or school personnel are sick, they should stay home and, if they have two or more symptoms of COVID-19, they should get tested.
Ventilation and airflow contribute to a healthy school environment. A working group on ventilation systems in schools was established early in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic; it included representatives from WorkSafeNB, Public Health, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. The department is working with school districts to promote healthy air circulation within schools.
Fans will not be allowed in classrooms. If the outdoor temperature or humidex value is 36 degrees or above, students will be learning from home. School personnel will be allowed to use fans if they are alone in a classroom or office.
When a positive case of COVID-19 is confirmed within a school environment, regional Public Health authorities will inform the superintendent and principal of the school and a risk assessment will be conducted. Public Health will give direction to the school and district, and families will be informed of the confirmed positive case and any impacts on the school. Like last year, schools may respond to a confirmed case in different ways and will continue to prepare to have students learn from home. However, this year, when a case impacts students in a school, the school will transition to home learning for at least one calendar day to allow more time for contact tracing and a risk assessment.
In the event of an outbreak, schools must be prepared to transition to at-home learning, restrict extracurricular, sports or music activities, or bubble classrooms under advice from Public Health.
“There will continue to be cases in schools as we learn to live with COVID-19, and we need the help of all New Brunswickers in supporting healthy and safe schools,” said Cardy. “We need everyone who is able to get vaccinated to do so, and for people to continue getting tested when they have symptoms. By following Public Health advice, we can create an environment where students are able to have a more normal day-to-day life and enjoy their childhood, while staying healthy and continuing to learn.”
More information, including resources for families, is available online.