As students and teachers return to the classroom, the Official Opposition is expressing concern over what the 2021-22 school year will look like in New Brunswick.
“We are hearing from parents who are concerned about the safety of their children, especially when it comes to the testing of unvaccinated staff members” says Benoît Bourque, Liberal Opposition critic for Education and Early Childhood Education. “How is this testing protocol being executed? Who is responsible for handling the tests, collecting the samples, and ensuring that all safety protocols are being followed when handling these materials? Are there enough tests available to keep up with the testing regiment for unvaccinated staff members?
Many are also concerned about getting their children to school as the first few days of the school year have been plagued by a significant shortage of bus drivers leaving some students to find their own way to school.
“It is only the first week of class and we are already seeing literal access to education issues. This shortage should have been identified earlier when the back-to-school plan was being developed and a contingency plan should have been prepared.” says the MLA for Kent South, Liberal Opposition critic for Education and Early Childhood Education. “Is this shortage a result of people refusing to show proof of vaccination or get tested? If so, what is being done to ensure students are not being unfairly penalized?”
Bourque questions whether there are sufficient resources available in the schools to help with the added burden of the pandemic.
“While many aspects of the day-to-day school life are going back to normal, the pandemic is not over and the need for additional human and financial resources is still present. I have come to understand that there is a reduction in educational assistants, which is very concerning” says Benoît Bourque. “Many students are left playing academic catch up after last year and need that extra support from educational assistants. Teachers are also dealing with added responsibilities due to the ongoing pandemic and can’t do everything on their own, the last thing we need is a high rate of teacher burnout.”
When it became known that proper ventilation was useful in the fight against Covid-19, other jurisdictions invested heavily to improve the ventilation systems in the schools.
“The issues with ventilation and air quality in New Brunswick schools are not new, but other jurisdictions saw the pandemic as a wakeup call and took immediate action to address this issue within their provincial schools while New Brunswick did not” says Benoît Bourque. “Investing in improved ventilation systems would improve the overall air quality for generations of students to come, this is not just a pandemic investment.”
Mental health is a growing issue in the province and especially within the school system. The Liberal Opposition believes additional investments in mental health resources for students are needed.
“These students have gone through a very difficult year plagued by uncertainty and fear. It’s important that we treat their mental health with the same importance as their physical health” says the Liberal critic for Education and Early Childhood Development. “There was a need for improved mental health services before the pandemic, but it is even more dire now.”
With children under the age of twelve currently unable to receive a Covid-19 vaccination, it is crucial that vaccination rates among those eligible be as high as possible.
“Vaccination is best way to protect yourself and others, and it is the only solution we have to the ongoing pandemic” says Benoît Bourque. “With just over 60% of eligible school aged children vaccinated, we must look at ways to make vaccination more convenient like bringing the vaccination clinics to schools.”