High school students were expected to return to full-time, in-person learning starting Monday, but the province announced Saturday that would be delayed for at least two weeks.
Students were to be back in class at full capacity, but with variant concerns growing, the decision was made to suspend the return. The situation will be re-evaluated “during the week of April 26,” the province said in a news release Saturday.
When Riverview High School parent Caroline Budgell heard full-time, in-person learning was suspended, she felt “first and foremost, a huge sense of relief.”
But she knows it’s not an easy decision either way.
“I feel for the teachers,” she says. “I understand it takes an awful lot of work to be able to do in-class and at-home learning.”
And it can certainly be challenging for students, too.
But one student who is also looking forward to maintaining a staggered schedule is Owen Pilkington, a grade 10 student at Harbour View High School in Saint John.
“I was a little shocked and a little relieved as well,” he says of learning the news Saturday.
He says it’s challenging being in school with COVID-19 concerns because it’s still a new experience. But he follows protocols to try to stay safe.
Owen’s mom, Susan, is also relieved with the delay to suspend the full classroom return. She’s been worried about what it would mean for her two high school sons.
“Owen has a heart condition and he has asthma, and he’s only 15, so he’s not eligible for the shot,” she tells Global News in a Zoom interview. “And herd immunity… I don’t know that is possible in high schools because half of those students are not eligible for the shot.”
Along with concerns in the Edmundston region, which is partially under lockdown, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said Saturday they’re watching cases in the Moncton and Saint John regions too. And with variants of the virus being top of mind, the decision was made to suspend the return.
“We need to be quite confident that we’re not going to be contributing to the problem,” she said. “And so this gives us time to watch the cases and if we don’t have more cases, then we can have more confidence going back.”
The New Brunswick Teachers Association is also worried about the variant.
‘“The presence of the variant in our communities has teachers concerned for the health and safety of their students, fellow colleagues and the public,” Rick Cuming, the association’s president says in an emailed statement. “Our K-8 teachers continue to be in classrooms that make social distancing very difficult.”
“Considering the increasing spread of cases, it is crucial that these teachers, including supply teachers, be prioritized for vaccination as soon as possible,” he said.
Education Minister Dominic Cardy wasn’t available for an interview Sunday, but he tweeted Saturday that he too was relieved the delay was happening.
Meanwhile, there are calls to keep the blended — or staggered — learning model until at least the end of the school year.
These students and parents are hoping safety takes priority with further decisions to be made.