Election scraps regular Return to School Plan updates in New Brunswick

Click to play video: 'Reaction to an election being called amid COVID-19 mixed among New Brunswickers'
Reaction to an election being called amid COVID-19 mixed among New Brunswickers
New Brunswickers have had more than 24 hours to think about how they feel about an election being called in the midst of the pandemic. Global’s Shelley Steeves found out the reaction is mixed – Aug 18, 2020

The New Brunswick election campaign has forced the province’s department of education to abandon regular updates for its Return to School Plan.

Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy had previously scheduled updates twice per week in August through Sept. 3.

But Monday’s drop of the writ was followed by an announcement that the updates would only be on dates “to be determined.”

Lloyd Jardine and his wife are raising their 13-year-old grandson, who is about to enter Grade 9, in the tiny community of Warwick Settlement, near Miramichi.

He said he was hopeful the regular updates would provide answers about how COVID-19 is going to change his grandson’s daily routine.

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Click to play video: 'Liberals and PC leaders set tone for their NB election campaigns'
Liberals and PC leaders set tone for their NB election campaigns

As an example, he said he’s not sure what will happen when the school bus arrives at the start of the day.

“Are they going to try to keep physical distancing as much as possible?” Jardine said. “Are they going to all enter the school, as to how the bus is going to unload? Is it going to be literally, physically impossible to keep any type of distance?

“We don’t know. So if we don’t have the updates, we still don’t know.”

Jardine spoke with Global News in the spring when students were finishing the previous school year online during the coronavirus pandemic. That was a challenge for his grandson, he said, because he has was he describes as “poor” high-speed internet connectivity.

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He was not alone.

Global News heard from numerous families affected by spotty service, primarily in rural areas.

Jardine said his internet connectivity has shown only modest improvement recently despite promises from the education department that services would be enhanced. He said he’s waiting for an update on those improvements.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick parents raising concerns about province’s return to school plan'
New Brunswick parents raising concerns about province’s return to school plan

He recently purchased a laptop for his grandson to use at school, but doubts his internet speed would allow for much at-home learning, as required for high school students.

“So my concern now is that during the election phase itself, and depending on the outcome,” he said. “These internet providers/cell providers are going to say, ‘OK, the pressure is no longer on us. We can just sit back on our laurels now, until at least the election is over.”

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Moncton-area GED teacher Linda Gutteridge believes money spent on the election may be better spent on computers and internet access for all students.

“If the second wave (of COVID-19) comes and it’s worse than the first wave, then people can just work from home,” Gutteridge said. “And if you don’t have access to a computer that has a printer and has a scanner and anything like that, you’re falling behind.”

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development declined a request for an interview because of the election.

A spokesperson told Global News updates are still planned prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year, with the next one set for Aug. 20.

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