COVID-19: New Brunswick teachers’ union hopeful in-person learning stays until spring

Click to play video: 'Most New Brunswick kids back in class' Most New Brunswick kids back in class
WATCH: Most elementary and middle school students across New Brunswick returned to in-person learning Monday for the first time since December. The Teacher’s Association says they’re not expecting any more interruptions through March Break. – Jan 31, 2022

Monday marked the return to in-person learning for New Brunswick’s elementary and middle school students – the first time these kids are back in the classroom since before the winter break.

While the province may not be taking a full step towards normal yet, students and parents are at least seeing a return to a more normal morning routine.

“Our kids weren’t completely excited about the idea of going back,” Salisbury, N.B., resident Jenna Morton tells Global News.

“They very much like the idea of not having to get up and having to go out into the cold first thing in the morning.”

Read more: New Brunswick reports 5 more COVID-19 deaths, including person in their 20s

Still, she says the morning went more smoothly than she anticipated.

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On top of mothering three kids under 12, Morton runs a parenting blog.

Her daughter in Grade 5 and twin boys in Grade 3 all returned to the classroom Monday, while high school-aged students head back Wednesday.

From there, the province’s plan is to stick to in-person learning full-time, save for select situations where COVID-19 cases pop up.

Even if numbers spike and the province moves back to Level 3 of its Winter Alert Plan, the return to online learning would be separately signalled by Public Health.

The union representing New Brunswick’s teachers says it is optimistic there won’t be another widespread interruption this winter.

“My understanding is there there’s a plan in place for certain now until March break,” says New Brunswick Teachers’ Association president Connie Keating.

She says she’s glad to see some stability in the education system.

“It’s been nearly two years now that teachers right across the country have been sounding the alarm about the detrimental impacts of interrupted schooling on students,” Keating says.

Click to play video: 'Students in New Brunswick heading back to in-person learning for 1st time since winter break' Students in New Brunswick heading back to in-person learning for 1st time since winter break
Students in New Brunswick heading back to in-person learning for 1st time since winter break – Jan 30, 2022

And amid those months of advocating for students, Keating says staffing shortfalls impacting teachers for years reach the breaking point when one (or more) has to isolate.

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“These shortages were already evident before COVID but certainly now we see a lot of strain on the system,” she says.

She says she believes government hears their concerns, with school districts set to try a new approach to backfill.

“Depending on the district, the plan might look a little different,” Keating says, “but basically there are three or four tiers of who would be called other than regular supply teachers to come in.”

She says wider recruitment and retention are on the list to be dealt with – and that would check an item off Morton’s list as well.

She says she hopes to see smaller class sizes down the road.

For now, both embrace this return to schools.

“I think we have to take that leap of faith to try and live with the situation we’re in,” says Morton.

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