Some N.B. parents call for a return to distance learning amid rise in COVID-19 cases

Jessica Hope's son attend Salisbury Elementary School. Shelley Steeves/Global News

As COVID-19 cases rise in New Brunswick schools, some parents are calling for schools to be temporarily shut down to in-person learning, particularly in areas where there is a lot of spread.

“I feel it is getting out of control,” said Jessica Hope, whose son attends Salisbury Elementary School.

She said her son’s school is not one of the 10 schools the Anglophone East School District said was in an “operational day” on Monday and closed to in-class learning due to confirmed cases of COVID-19.

But she said she feels like it is just a matter of time before her son’s school is impacted and she is questioning why the N.B. Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is not switching to at-home learning for all schools in Zone 1 to try and limit the spread.

“It would be horrible if a child did get ill and something happened. Do we want to get to that point?” said Hope.

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Schools in the entire district should go back to distance learning for at least three weeks, Hope said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development says it knows that many families are feeling anxious about the rise in cases in schools and that the department is working with public health to develop new approaches to address the “present reality” of the pandemic in the province.

“We are currently working with Public Health to develop new approaches to address the present reality of the pandemic in our province, including a wider use of rapid testing. We will have more to share on this in the coming days,” said Flavio Nienow.

“While this is a rapidly evolving situation, we are working diligently with Public Health and school districts to prevent and manage outbreaks in schools and ensure students are able to access quality education in safe environments.”

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He said the department is trying to strike a balance between meeting the developmental needs of youth and preventing COVID-19 exposure and transmission in the school environment, particularly with variants of concern.

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“Building supportive relationships with educators and peers has a protective effect for youth and increases their resilience to cope with the stressors being experienced today. This is particularly true for younger learners who require alternate care such as staying with extended family members when they are not in a classroom environment,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hope said she supports the use of rapid testing in schools, but she still believes a temporary in-class shutdown is needed.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to slow things down, close things down and reset?”

Moncton father Gregory Collins said sending students home would present a hardship for his family.

“The more the schools close down, the more parents are left wondering what they are going to do next,” said Collins.

He said he is currently studying for his GED during the day and his wife works full-time.

“We have five children in school and they all go to the same school and if they get shut down I would have to stay home we don’t have money for daycare during the day,” he said.

But he said a planned shutdown for several weeks would be far less stressful to manage than the current reactive measures.

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“Before I go to bed I have to check which schools are closed and how it is going to affect us next and it is just a matter of time before our kids’ school gets hits with it as well,” said Collins.

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