FREDERICTON (GNB) – The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development released a detailed parent and public guide today supporting the Return to School: September 2020 plan for the public-school system.

The Return to School: Guide for Parents and the Public provides a detailed overview of what students, parents and guardians need to know before returning to school in September. It outlines the requirements schools and school districts must meet while developing their COVID-19 operational plans, which will be made available to parents. It works in conjunction with Public Health guidance to the department and may be changed based upon the evolution of the pandemic.

“While we released our high-level Return to School plan in June, we know students, families and educators still had many questions on what to expect when they go back into the classroom,” said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy. “A critical part of reopening schools while we live through this pandemic is protecting the health and safety of staff and students; however, our mandate continues to be ensuring that students have access to quality, inclusive education that positions them for long-term success.”

In addition to reduced group sizes, classroom bubbles for students in kindergarten to Grade 8 and blended learning for high school students, the guide includes direction for face mask use, transportation, cleaning, outbreak management and learning plans.

“Public Health was pleased to collaborate with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in establishing this comprehensive approach to returning to school safely,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health. “We will continue to provide guidance throughout the school year on various issues ranging from prevention measures to managing an outbreak and will support our students, families, educators and school staff every step of the way.”

Face mask use

Every student will bring a face mask to school daily, but masks will not be required inside the classroom. Students in Grades 6-12 will wear face masks on the school bus and in common areas of the school such as washrooms and in the hallways. Use of a face mask in common areas is encouraged for students in K-5 but is not required.

If they stay within their classroom bubble, K-8 teachers can choose whether or not to wear a face mask or shield. In Grades 9-12, teachers will wear a face mask or shield whenever they are not able to physically distance.

Transportation

Curtains will be installed to provide a physical barrier between school bus drivers and students while students get on and off the bus. If physical distancing is not possible, the driver will be required to wear a face mask or shield.

Students will sit in the same seat every day. To promote physical distancing, buses will be filled from back to front. As K-5 students are not required to wear masks, they will sit one student per seat, or with a member of their household. Students in Grades 6-12 wearing masks will sit two to a seat, but do not have to wear masks if they are sitting alone or with a member of their household.

Personal safety and screening

Parents will be responsible for screening their child before coming to school daily. Information packages, including screening questionnaires will be sent directly to families through the schools. Information is also available online.

Educators will teach students age-appropriate ways to reduce physical contact and promote good hygiene. Students will be reminded to wash or sanitize their hands regularly, including each time they enter the school or classroom.

Enhanced cleaning protocols

Hand sanitizing stations will be installed at school entrances and in every classroom. Drinking fountains will be replaced with water bottle filling stations.

Commonly touched surfaces will be cleaned regularly throughout the day. Personal spaces, such as desks and lockers, will be cleaned daily. Changing rooms will be cleaned a minimum of three times per day. More details on specific school cleaning protocols will be outlined in each school’s individual operational plan.

“Everyone has a role to play in supporting a safe return to school,” said Cardy. “To achieve this goal, we will need the cooperation of parents, students and educators to model healthy and positive behaviours, build trust and be respectful with one another.”

The department will continue to work with educators, schools and school districts in the coming months. Schools and districts will make individual school operational plans available to parents before students return to school on Sept. 8.

Parents with questions about the Return to School plan or the Laptop Subsidy Program can call the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development at 1-833-901-1963 or email EECDRTS-EDPERAE@gnb.ca.