Update on plans for students return to classrooms / HEPA filters being installed in some classrooms
Educators from throughout the system will be redeployed to support greater stability for in-person learning when students return to the classroom. Staff from school districts and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development will be sent to help fill-in for staff who are isolating at home to help reduce the number of operational days.
In addition, the department has invested about $3 million to purchase and install 2,000 portable HEPA filters for classrooms. These machines will be installed this week in the classrooms of 60 schools which lack integrated mechanical ventilation systems.
“I know families are anxiously awaiting a return to in-person learning for our students as soon as possible,” said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy. “Since we announced the move to home learning following the winter break, staff at the department, in districts and schools, have all been working diligently to ensure we are taking every precaution when students return.”
The HEPA filters are being installed in classrooms to meet the recommendations set out in a report from an independent science and research company. The report was sponsored by a working group including WorkSafe NB, Public Health and the departments of Education and Early Childhood Development and Transportation and Infrastructure. The report and its recommendations are available online.
“Given the rapid transmissibility of Omicron, we know we need to use every single tool available that could potentially help in reducing transmissions,” said Cardy. “While the report notes there is no evidence that directly shows HEPA filtration reduces COVID-19 transmission in classrooms, it found that when they are properly installed, operated and maintained, they could be an additional line of defence, when they are coupled with masking, to help support a reduction of the propagation of airborne COVID particles in classrooms which lack mechanical ventilation systems.”
A supply of medical-grade masks, rated as KN95 or higher, have been secured for teachers and school staff. Students are encouraged to bring well-fitted, three-layer masks as per Public Health guidance.
Families are reminded to anticipate the following changes when students return to in-person learning:
- class groupings will be used for students in kindergarten to Grade 8;
- masks will be required indoors;
- masks will be required outdoors, with exceptions for K-8 students who are within their grouping at levels 1 or 2;
- there will be limited singing and limited use of wind instruments; and
- visitors will be limited.
“We are aiming to have students back in the classroom as early as next Monday, Jan. 31, but we need every New Brunswicker to do their part and follow Public Health measures to get us there,” said Cardy.
Due to changes in the province’s strategy for managing COVID-19 cases, the rapid testing program for schools and child-care facilities to support contact tracing will no longer be available. A limited supply of rapid tests was made available for symptomatic children aged two to five through early learning and child-care facilities on a first-come-first-serve basis. Students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 experiencing symptoms should register online for rapid tests.
Guidelines also provide direction to schools and facilities on extracurricular activities, sports, spectators, physical education, field trips, and the use of school spaces such as the cafeteria, auditoriums, and community use of schools. The full plans for Kindergarten to Grade 8 and high schools are available online.
Families are also reminded they are responsible for notifying their child’s school and child-care facility of positive cases of COVID-19. Information on self-reported COVID-19 cases at schools and child-care facilities will continue to be available on the Healthy and Safe Schools website.