P.E.I. high schools taking new measures to stop spread of COVID-19

·3 min read

High schools on P.E.I. are reviewing pandemic plans and looking at new steps they can take to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19.

The moves come after the province saw its first case in an Island school at the end of November.

At Charlottetown Rural High School, where one student tested positive, the principal says his school "made a few tweaks" when classes resumed last week, all aimed at keeping students spread out as best they can in the large, at-capacity school.

"There's a limited number of things you can do to keep the kids apart," said Dale McIsaac.

"You can't take a group of 30 kids and keep them separate from another 30, because the kids all have individual schedules. So the biggest issue is making sure they're social distancing as much as possible when they're not in class."

Staggered lunch times, seating further apart

For one, the school's brought in staggered start times for lunch and the final bell, so a large group of students aren't rushing out of the building at once.

"Everybody prior to today, would go 11:30," explained McIsaac. "Now the 12s are leaving 11:28, the 11s at 11:30, and the 10s at 11:32. And the same stagger at the end of the day as well."

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

The school's also placed "Please Sit Here" stickers at seating areas in the lobby and cafeteria.

McIsaac said the goal is keeping students a little farther apart when they're eating or drinking. That's the only time high school students on the Island are permitted to take their masks off while inside the building.

"So we've designated sitting spots all over the school where they're expected to separate a little bit at lunch time," he said. "We've opened up a couple classrooms close to the cafeteria to allow some flexibility with the crowds at lunch time. And there are spots around the school where the kids can sit and eat as well."

2-weeks online a learning experience

Just as schools are taking steps to prevent an outbreak and keep students in school, they're also preparing for the possibility of having to send them home again.

Charlottetown Rural was one of four high schools, all in the capital region, that moved to online learning for the last two weeks before Christmas break.

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

That was one of several temporary measures brought in by P.E.I.'s Chief Public Health Office following a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the community.

McIsaac said while the two weeks of virtual learning went well overall, there are some things they'll do differently if they have to do it again.

"Our pacing would change a little bit I think. We wouldn't necessarily be able to go at the same rate, and cover the same amount of curriculum in the same amount of time," said McIsaac.

"Some of the feedback I got anecdotally was, 'Holy smokes, I'm still struggling to see how much the kids can do, how much I can push them, what I need to provide.' So it's a learning curve for the teachers and the students to do the pacing for the school and for a particular course as well."

Officials with P.E.I.'s Public Schools Branch said across the four high schools that went online, there was a high level of engagement from students and few technical problems reported.

Though they acknowledge if schools in rural areas have to move online for any reason, that will present more challenges, given the spottier internet in some areas outside the city.

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