‘Huge detriment’ to Listuguj high school students not allowed to attend class in-person

Click to play video 'Sugarloaf High School reopens after positive case of COVID-19 confirmed last week' Sugarloaf High School reopens after positive case of COVID-19 confirmed last week
The school in Campbellton was closed for cleaning and contact tracing, but as classes resume students from Quebec who attend the school are not being allowed back. Callum Smith has more.

Thursday marked the first day high school students from the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Nation in Quebec took their classes online after recently being told they couldn’t attend Sugarloaf Senior High School in person.

The school in Campbellton, N.B. was closed last week after a case of COVID-19 was confirmed; contact tracing and cleaning took place over the long weekend.

But a mother of a high school student from Listuguj says she’s concerned about how it will impact her daughter, who started her first year at Sugarloaf Senior High last month.

“[The decision] really had a profound impact on [Kya], particularly because we don’t recognize the border, so she has friends in Campbellton,” Tanya Barnaby Williams says. “A lot of her friends are in Campbellton, so to be able to go to school with them on a daily basis was something that she was really looking forward to.”
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Barnaby Williams acknowledges public health decisions need to be top-of-mind as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, but says she wants consistent rules for students on both sides of the Restigouche River.

Read more: Coronavirus: Mi’kmaq students in Quebec asked not to return to New Brunswick school

To date, there have been no cases of COVID-19 reported in Listuguj, Que. Meanwhile, the outbreak in Campbellton, N.B. is still being watched closely by public health officials.

“The decision that was made by the minister and the government this past week on excluding Mi’gmaq students, I feel is going to push us back 20 years in terms of our progress,” Barnaby Williams says of the longstanding relationship that has grown over time between the border communities.

More than 100 students from Listuguj started online learning in a makeshift classroom, set up quickly by education officials from the First Nation.

Meanwhile, in-person studies resumed for those students living on the New Brunswick side of the border.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak declared at Campbellton care home as more cases reported in N.B.' Coronavirus outbreak declared at Campbellton care home as more cases reported in N.B.
Coronavirus outbreak declared at Campbellton care home as more cases reported in N.B.

Speaking at a press conference Monday, New Brunswick education minister Dominic Cardy said Listuguj students attending school, for years, in Campbellton is “part of a great relationship between that community and our province’s school system.”

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But Cardy was quick to shift blame to the neighbouring province.

“The fact that’s had to be interrupted… Responsibility there lies at the feet of the Government of Quebec, who were unable to cooperate with us on security protocols,” Cardy said.

He thanked Listuguj Chief Darcy Gray and his council for their “incredible cooperation through this process.”

The New Brunswick government popped its bubble with two neighbouring municipal regional counties last week, but said Listuguj and Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que., residents could continue crossing the JC Van Horne Bridge for essential reasons.

Read more: Economy, relationship strained between Campbellton, N.B. region, neighbouring Quebec communities

Unlike high school students, K-8 students are not impacted by the decision.

Regardless of where the blame lies, Barnaby Williams doesn’t understand the rationale that prevents her daughter from continuing to attend school in Campbellton.

“Because it really does a huge detriment to their sense of security in terms of being in school, and also just their sense of ‘why am I different, why am I excluded, just because I live in Listuguj?”

Global News has reached out to Quebec’s health minister as well as the education minister and will update this story when a response is received.