P.E.I. Opposition presses government for COVID-19 back-to-school plan

·2 min read
The province and the Chief Public Health Office of P.E.I. have yet to reveal whether P.E.I. students will be required to wear masks when they go back to school September 7.  (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
The province and the Chief Public Health Office of P.E.I. have yet to reveal whether P.E.I. students will be required to wear masks when they go back to school September 7. (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition Green Party is pressing the provincial government to share its plan for keeping students safe from COVID-19 when school begins in less than two weeks.

The first day of class in Prince Edward Island's public school system is September 7. The province has yet to lay out things such as whether students will be required to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Public Schools Branch director Norbert Carpenter told CBC News on Aug. 12 that he expected "in-depth" meetings with the province's Chief Public Health Office the week of Aug. 15, with recommendations to follow in the next "week to 10 days."

"Are we going to be dealing with cohorting? Are there going to be limits on extracurricular activities? Do we need to be masking? Are parents going to be encouraged to drive their kids to school?" said Green Party of P.E.I. education critic Lynne Lund.

Lund told CBC News she has reached out to Education and Lifelong Learning Minister Natalie Jameson asking her to release the plan, because the Opposition has been hearing from parents and teachers who want details.

"It seems very late in the game to not be laying out these sorts of foundational pieces," she said. "The minister knew this was necessary."

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

By the end of the school year in late June, children in Island schools and child-care centres were no longer required to wear masks as they moved about schools or on school buses, or to conduct at-home rapid tests for COVID-19 before attending school.

In neighbouring Nova Scotia, the government announced Wednesday that masks will continue to be optional at schools, and students will be going on field trips and participating in sports the way they normally did before the pandemic was declared in March 2020.

Concerns for students' mental health, literacy 

Lund calls communicating the plan "a basic courtesy," adding that teachers have a right to know what will be expected of them.

Lund said she has heard from teachers concerned about students whose mental health suffered during the pandemic, wondering if there will be adequate supports for those children. She said teachers are also worried about literacy loss and numeracy challenges that may have cropped up during months of online learning.

"They want to know that additional supports are going to be there to help the students that they care about, and that all of that responsibility isn't going to be downloaded to them alone."