Extreme heat spells no school, early dismissal for some N.B. students Thursday

Some New Brunswick students will get to stay home or leave school early Thursday, thanks to soaring temperatures.

The francophone school districts are advising parents to keep their children home on Thursday with a few exceptions, and most of the anglophone districts will be dismissing students early.

"In response to the current heat wave, we have advised parents to keep their children at home on Thursday," said Francophone South spokesperson Jean-Luc Thériault.

The only exceptions are for students attending Régionale de Baie–Sainte-Anne and Sainte-Anne schools, which are both equipped with air conditioning, "therefore, classes will continue as normal there," and Centre scolaire communautaire Samuel-de-Champlain in Saint John, which Thériault said is not under a heat advisory, although Environment Canada lists a heat warning in effect for Saint John and County, as of 4 p.m. Wednesday.

All schools are expected to be open Friday, he said, but the district is monitoring the weather conditions closely and will provide updates promptly, if necessary.

Anglophone East has decided to dismiss students early, "out of an abundance of care and caution, due to the extraordinarily warm temperatures our region is currently experiencing," superintendent Randolph MacLean told parents.

High school students don't have classes this week, the last week of school, but dismissal times for other students will range from about 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m., depending on school bus schedules, according to the notice.

"All school and student celebrations (proms, graduations, award nights, etc.) will continue as scheduled, unless otherwise indicated at the local level," MacLean said.

Anglophone West will also have early dismissal for students in kindergarten through Grade 8, Daniel Wishart, the manager of pupil transportation, said in an advisory.

"Students will be dismissed two hours earlier than their regular afternoon dismissal time," he said.

Heat warnings across N.B.

Environment Canada has issued heat warnings right across the province, with a maximum temperature of 30 C to 35 C expected Thursday, while the humidex will make it feel more like 39 to 45.

"Hot and humid conditions could possibly continue into Friday, especially over southern areas of the province," the alert states.

Heat warnings are issued when very high temperature or humidity conditions are expected to "pose an elevated risk of heat illnesses, such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion," according to the notice.

The maximum temperature Thursday is expected to be 30 to 35 C, with a humidex of 39 to 45, Environment Canada warns.
The maximum temperature Thursday is expected to be 30 to 35 C, with a humidex of 39 to 45, Environment Canada warns. (Environment Canada)

The Government of New Brunswick also issued a Level 3 extreme heat alert Wednesday, which warns that "everyone is at high risk" for heat-related illnesses and heat stroke.

Several communities have opened cooling centres, according to the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization.

Superintendents have discretion, no written policy

Will the extreme heat mean an early start to summer vacation for New Brunswick students?

The Department of Education says that's up to Mother Nature and the school districts.

"Superintendents have the discretion to send students home during school hours if the temperature reaches 40 C or above with the humidex, according to Environment Canada," department spokesperson Sean McConnell said in an emailed statement.

But there is no written policy about what temperature should trigger a closure, according to the president of the teachers' association and the spokespeople for at least two districts.

The department spokesperson did not respond to questions about classroom temperatures or how many schools don't have air conditioning, but dozens still don't have mechanical ventilation systems.

An environmental engineer says the Nova Scotia government needs to update the building code to improve indoor air quality in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dozens of schools in the province do not have integrated mechanical ventilation systems. About 28 schools are scheduled to get new systems installed by the end of 2026, while the other schools are expected to be replaced. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

"With very warm weather during this last week of school, students and staff are encouraged to stay hydrated and drink water, even when they don't feel thirsty, limit time spent in direct heat outdoors, and fans should be used where possible to keep classrooms cool," McConnell said.

School staff will also do their best to keep students comfortable, he said.

A "code of practice," which outlines "how to minimize risks when working in the heat" has been shared with the school districts, said McConnell.

New Brunswick Teachers' Association president Peter Lagacy says there aren't enough supply teachers in the system to backfill vacant teacher roles.
New Brunswick Teachers' Association president Peter Lagacy said the government needs to plan for air conditioning in schools. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The New Brunswick Teachers' Association is unaware of any "policy that states when school closures should occur due to weather conditions like this," said president Peter Lagacy.

"As we look to the future, the government needs to include plans for ventilation and air conditioning in schools to address this reality," he said in an emailed statement.

Safety is paramount

Francophone South "does not have a specific policy that triggers school closures based on reaching a certain temperature threshold," according to the district spokesperson Thériault.

Similarly, Jessica Hanlon, spokesperson for the Anglophone South School District, said there is no district level policy specifically about temperatures triggering school closure, but "the safety of students is paramount and if student safety was is in question, for any reason, our superintendent would close a school."

"High temperatures at the end of the school year is not entirely new, so school administrators are adept at managing it."

No schools in the district have air conditioning, said Hanlon, in an emailed statement. Schools with mechanical ventilation systems are able to turn them on overnight to draw in the cooler air, she said. Fans are also permitted in classrooms.

As it is the last week of school, high school students don't have classes this week and the younger grades "are typically engaged in more outdoor activities and field trips."

'Tips and strategies'

Anglophone North follows the direction and guidelines provided by the Department of Education when it comes to weather-related decisions affecting schools, said spokesperson Meredith Caissie.

The superintendent has the discretion to send students home during school hours "if the situation warrants," she said in an emailed statement.

Three schools in that district have air conditioning systems, she said, while the majority of the others have mechanical ventilation systems. District maintenance staff are able to schedule air intake and circulation when temperatures are cooler through the overnight hours. Fans are also permitted in schools.

The Francophone Northwest and Northeast school districts kept all schools closed Thursday, with regular school hours resuming on Friday.

"We've been taking temperature samples from our schools and on our school buses throughout the day," the Francophone Northeast posted on Wednesday evening. "Everywhere, the collected data confirms a very high ambient temperature."