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Coronavirus: Students from Listuguj call for return to Campbellton, N.B. classroom

Click to play video 'Listuguj High School student writes to governments asking to be let back into classroom' Listuguj High School student writes to governments asking to be let back into classroom
WATCH: A Listuguj High School student has written a letter to the New Brunswick and Quebec governments asking to be let back into the classroom – Nov 19, 2020

With the support of some of her classmates from the other side of the Restigouche River, a Listuguj high school student has written a letter to the New Brunswick and Quebec governments asking to be let back into the classroom.

High schoolers from Listuguj First Nation in Quebec have been barred from attending class in-person at Sugarloaf Senior High School in Campbellton, N.B. since mid-October due to an outbreak in the region at the time. They’ve taken classes virtually at a makeshift ‘learning hub’ in Listuguj.

Read more: Schools still open amid Canadian coronavirus resurgence. But for how long?

Both New Brunswick and Quebec governments have blamed each other for the reason students can’t be in the classroom.

But with no active cases currently in the Campbellton region, and only two reported cases in Listuguj throughout the pandemic, students are calling for change.

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“It hurts me that as a 9th grader I have to write to grown-ups to encourage them to sit and talk about my future and the future of all the students from Listuguj who can’t go to school in Campbellton,” Kya Barnaby, a student living in Listuguj, said in a letter to both provinces.

Despite the provincial border, communities on either side of the Restigouche River have had a long relationship — one that has grown over the years. Many people work or do business on either side of the border.

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

“It causes a lot more stress not having our close friends with us,” says Eliza-Kate Meyers, a Grade 9 student living in Campbellton. “It’s really important that we get the [J.C. Van Horne] bridge open to Pointe-à-la-Croix and Listuguj as soon as possible because… their education and future is kind of in the government’s hands.”

K-8 students are still allowed to cross the border for school.

Aside from mental health concerns, Barnaby says the technicalities of virtual learning cause more stress.

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“Sometimes it’s blurry when they’re teaching or when they’re giving a lesson. We can’t hear well,” she says in an interview. “And then they pack and pack work on us.”

Barnaby says it’s even more difficult for Grade 12 students who don’t have hands-on learning options or practicum classes.

New Brunswick’s education minister has said the bubble had to be tightened because Quebec failed to agree to security protocols.

Read more: ‘Schools can make or break communities’: N.B. cities call for more input in school location decisions

Ewan Sauves, a spokesperson for Quebec Premier François Legault declined interviews on behalf of the government, but said conversations with New Brunswick will continue.

“I would like to recall that our government had originally adopted an order to keep the municipality of Pointe-à-la-Croix and the community of Listuguj in the Atlantic bubble,” Sauves said in a statement. “This decision was requested by the municipality and the community, with New Brunswick’s agreement. The regional elected officials eventually changed their minds and we adapted to their wish.”

Read more: Quebec First Nation reports first case of COVID-19

Gilbert Cyr, a former Sugarloaf Senior High School principal and current Campbellton city councillor, says education should be essential.

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“We have 12,000 people as mentioned in the data travelling in and out of the province of New Brunswick daily with essential services,” he says. “And yet 50 kids can’t be added to that great number?”

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COVID-19: Montreal high school students happy about less in-school time, but miss socializing – Oct 28, 2020

Approximately 100 high school students would cross the bridge, but New Brunswick’s blended learning model sees students attending on opposite days to reduce contact.

Listuguj Chief Darcy Gray says he’s had individual conversations with Quebec and New Brunswick, but he hasn’t been included at the table in conversations between the jurisdictions.

“I’m excluded from any of those discussions, yet impacted the most,” Gray says in an interview. “I think that speaks volumes as to the approach many governments take with First Nations, where we’re a side conversation, a sidebar — we’re not included.”

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

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Gray says checkpoints have been established around Listuguj and the responsibility of the decision preventing students from attending class relies “primarily” on New Brunswick.

“We’ve done what we needed to do to keep our people safe.”

Gray says he appreciates people speaking out in support of Listuguj.

“I’m expected to complain about what’s not right here…” he says. “It’s nice to have allies.”