No extra budget for COVID-19 initiatives in schools this year: N.B. deputy education minister

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick youth starts school year with no masks'
New Brunswick youth starts school year with no masks
Summer vacation has now officially come to an end for many for students in New Brunswick. The ringing of school bells marks the first time in two years that children start the year without masks. Robert Lothian reports – Sep 6, 2022

The deputy minister of education and early childhood development in New Brunswick told the public accounts committee on Tuesday that there was no budget for COVID-19 initiatives for this school year.

On Tuesday, Liberal MLA and education critic Benoit Bourque asked deputy minister George Daley whether it was prepared for the waves of COVID-19 the World Health Organization and the country’s top doctor were warning about coinciding with the return to school.

“We still hear some concerns globally, we’re still hearing about additional waves, we hear about this large wave that could wash over us in the fall,” Bourque asked, according to a translation to English.

“I would like to hear from you whether you put plans in place … what is the current situation you are expecting and what are your plans in case there is another wave coming?”

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Read more: COVID 19 - New Brunswick education minister hoping for normal school year

Daley responded to Bourque by saying, “On a budgetary approach, we would be back into a regular budget cycle.”

“We would not have been looking for any additional funds on COVID initiatives,” he told the committee.

Daley said the department is working closely with Public Health on guidance and direction.

“As the government announced, we are back without any restrictions the same as we’ve been since early March of last year,” he said Tuesday.

Bourque said he was concerned about the fact there was no budget for potential COVID-19 measures or mandates in the future given the conversation around the virus.

“I must admit that I am a bit surprised to see that the budget is a regular budget, there is nothing about a new resurgence about the pandemic, and I must say it is surprising to me,” Bourque said.

Click to play video: 'N.B. teachers worried about lack of substitutes ahead of school year'
N.B. teachers worried about lack of substitutes ahead of school year

He asked the two deputy ministers for reassurance the department would be able to handle a resurgence of COVID-19.

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“These worries are not unfounded,” Bourque said.

However, fellow deputy minister Marcel Lavoie said the pandemic has taught them they cannot predict the future.

“In this case, we have a back-to-school, which is relatively normal,” Lavoie said. “Every time in the past that we have had to add additional measures, we went to the treasury board to get additional funds.”

On Wednesday, Education Minister Dominic Cardy told reporters should Public Health make a recommendation to reinstate mandatory masks, he would make that change.

The department spent a total of $71.61 million last school year for COVID-19 for K-12, early learning facilities and child-care facilities.

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