Prince Edward Island's Public Schools Branch (PSB) and La Commission scolaire de langue française (CSLF) say they are taking the advice of the Chief Public Health Office, and will require masks for students and staff on buses and in some parts of schools this fall, said a written news release Friday.
Dr. Heather Morrison released back-to-school guidance from the CPHO on Monday. It was criticized by some who said the province's guidelines were vague and too lax.
A key point of contention was the plan's mask recommendations. P.E.I.'s Home and School Federation and at least one epidemiologist said the government should have had mask requirements in most scenarios as opposed to just suggesting their use.
The PSB and CSLF's masking policies released Friday are:
Masks required for staff, students and visitors in all grades when moving through a school building. Masks may be removed when seated in classrooms.
Masks required for staff in classrooms in Grades K-6 when physical distancing is not possible.
Masks required for staff and students in all grades on school buses.
The release said the CPHO will evaluate the measures on an ongoing basis.
"Plans for the 2021-2022 school year will need to be flexible and recognize that COVID-19 may impact different schools, communities and regions at various times and levels," the release said.
"Schools will communicate regularly with parents and guardians on the operational plan for their schools based on the COVID-19 risk level."
Vaccination won't be mandatory
Vaccination remains the most effective way to reduce the risks of COVID-19, the release noted, and officials strongly recommend vaccination for all eligible staff, students and visitors to schools.
However, there is still no vaccine approved for children under 12. Some say those could be coming as early as the fall. Pfizer clinical trials are underway, the first of which is expected to be complete by October. Subsequent trials for youth under five aren't expected to be complete until 2022.
Some provinces including Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba have made the move to vaccinate 11-year-olds who will turn 12 by the end of the year.
"The PSB and CSLF are confident in a high vaccination rate among school staff and will not make vaccination mandatory at this time," the release said.
"We are optimistic that the flexible back-to-school plans will allow for the highest quality and safe education experience for all."
Danya O'Malley is a concerned parent of 15-year-old twins entering high school as well as a son entering Grade 2. She had some concerns about the province's initial plan to recommend but not mandate mask-wearing.
"I'm definitely very supportive of the change in the plans," O'Malley said. "Just because something is recommended doesn't mean that people will follow it. So it's safer to put it out as a requirement."