Island schools should continue to require masks, home and school federation says

·3 min read
P.E.I.'s back-to-school guidance was released Monday. (Shutterstock/Halfpoint - image credit)
P.E.I.'s back-to-school guidance was released Monday. (Shutterstock/Halfpoint - image credit)

New provincial COVID-19 protocols for the next school year don't go far enough to prevent the spread of the disease among children and their families on the Island, the Prince Edward Island Home and School Federation says.

The organization, which represents local home and school associations and parent councils across the province, said the document failed to set out clearly what the masking and vaccination expectations are for students and staff.

"After reviewing the document and meeting as a Provincial Board, it was agreed that the document was ambiguous and relied on discretionary language rather than stating clear masking and vaccination expectations and minimum requirements for staff, students, visitors and guests," the federation said in a statement.

"This has the potential to cause confusion and inequities across the province."

The government's plan offers different guidance depending on whether the Island is in a low- or elevated-risk scenario when it comes to community transmission. It currently expects a low-risk scenario when school begins, but is also planning to keep in place enhanced mask protocols until at least October.

Masks recommended

Under all scenarios, masks are only recommended.

The PEIHSF board says the government should keep the same requirements for staff, students, visitors and volunteers that were in place the previous year, until vaccination rates for all age groups is 80 per cent. Last year masks were required for students indoors in grades 7-12, except in situations such as eating, exercising and playing an instrument.

"Masking at this point can still protect our students that are under 12, that don't have a choice about vaccination," federation president Heather Mullen said. No COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for children under 12.

"We also need to keep students and families and staff safe that are immunocompromised."

Mullen said many of the students, parents and staff are still used to the old guidelines and that the previous school year was very successful.

The board also recommends that there should be some discussion as to whether vaccinations should be mandatory for school personnel.

Not out of the woods

Some parents said they're concerned with regards to the new guidelines.

"For the younger ones, like kindergarten to Grade 6, they have removed all those mandatory mask requirements, the cohorting, the physical distancing, the capacity on the bus is going back to pre-pandemic level, no masks on the bus. So I think all those are concerning," said Krishna Thakur, parent of a 14-year-old and a seven-year-old.

"We are not at the same risk level as in Ontario or as in Alberta, but we are not totally out of the pandemic either."

But others say they're comfortable with the new measures.

"i just have full faith that if something alarming happen, they'll just make the calls and make the changes to make it safe." said Jayne Schmidt, whose oldest child is starting kindergarten in September.

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