The head of P.E.I.'s Public Schools Branch says that under the province's new COVID-19 guidance, the return to class this fall will look a lot like the end of the last school year.
Masks won't be mandatory at P.E.I. schools or on school buses when classes begin Sept. 7, although they are being recommended for staff who work with immune-compromised students when physical distancing is not possible, the Chief Public Health Office said Thursday.
There won't be any cohorts and students won't be required to do regular at-home rapid testing. The province is also recommending that children aged five to 11 receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster in the fall.
Though some parents are expressing concerns, PSB director Norbert Carpenter said he's happy with the plan, and schools are ready to adapt if a surge in COVID-19 cases leads to a change of plans.
"We do like the way it's been outlined, with routine measures to start and enhanced measures if necessary," he said in an interview with Island Morning on Friday.
"So with the routine plan coming out, we feel most people are pleased with it. We do realize that some will have questions and concerns that we will be fielding in the next few days. But we are pleased with the outline."
Rapid tests, masks still on hand
The Chief Public Health Office has said restrictions could return if the province experiences a COVID-19 wave in the fall. Its guidance document says that in that case, masking would be required again when passing through school buildings and on school buses.
Carpenter said he'll rely on the experts to make calls on when further restrictions are needed, saying he's sure the CPHO would issue an order to go beyond the enhanced protocols if things "were really going sideways."
Meanwhile, he said the PSB is encouraging people to mask if they want to. Schools will have a supply of masks on hand, and rapid tests will be made available for parents.
"Last year there were many measures in place," Carpenter said.
"[It] really had an impact on the socialization of staff and students, so we are pleased with all of the measures, but that's not dismissing that there's still a virus circulating in our community."
Reaction from parents
There was mixed reaction on Friday from parents CBC News spoke with about the back-to-school plan.
Amanda MacDonald has a daughter who is about to start school. She feels not enough is being done to protect students from the COVID-19 virus.
"I don't think it makes a lot of sense for them to go back without any precautions in place because it's not a good idea to ever be reactive to situations and wait for them to worsen," she said.
"We should be proactive and preventing anything from happening, especially with how health care is right now, and the shortage of staff doctors, and wait times ... it's just disappointing."
Other parents welcomed what's outlined in the back-to-school plan.
"We need to move on and return to our normal lives," said Jose Ureaneta, who has a daughter in Grade 4.
Still others are of two minds on the issue — weighing the plan's pros and cons.
"It's a difficult question," Gustavo Meza, who also has a daughter in elementary school. "I would like to my daughter to be safe, but at the same time I think it's more comfortable for the kids not wearing masks because they are kids.
"But at the same time, I think it's risky for them because they can get COVID."
Teachers' federation reacts
In a statement Friday, Aldene Smallman, president of the P.E.I. Teachers Federation, said teachers are looking forward to a return to school for students that is closer to normal than at any time since the beginning of the pandemic.
"We continue to follow the guidance provided by the CPHO," her statement said.
"Some will have questions and causes for concern, which are to be expected. We appreciate the tone and messaging supporting individuals should they choose to wear a mask and when the situation warrants."
The first day of public school on P.E.I. is Sept. 7.