Schools adapting on P.E.I. as COVID case count continues to rise

·4 min read
Traffic sign in Charlottetown saying 'School Has Started, Drive with Care, Keep Students Safe.' (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Traffic sign in Charlottetown saying 'School Has Started, Drive with Care, Keep Students Safe.' (Jane Robertson/CBC - image credit)

Schools on P.E.I are shifting gears and preparing for the uncertain days ahead as two new cases were announced in the Charlottetown area.

The cases were at Stratford Elementary School, but were not declared an outbreak as they were related to previously announced cases.

"Right now we are in this waiting game to see more testing coming in," director of Public Schools Branch Norbert Carpenter said in an interview with Steve Bruce for CBC News: Compass.

"The luxury we do have right now is that Stratford Elementary is without classes up until the end of the day on Wednesday."

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

Carpenter said a decision will be made Wednesday about when roughly 8,000 students can return to the majority of Charlottetown-area schools.

Remote learning lessons begin

West Royalty Elementary will remain out for the entire week as that was where the first group of cases were discovered and outbreak declared.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

They will move to online learning, with remote learning lessons beginning on Wednesday, Carpenter said.

"To have an outbreak over the weekend, the first weekend of the school year, is very problematic," Carpenter said.

"So to get remote learning up and running, it does take a little bit of time."

The best place for children to learn is in the classroom but online is a second, and safer, option when needed, Carpenter said.

He expects it could be slow to start but said that pace will help the teachers and students get more comfortable with the technology.

It's been a little bit nerve wracking with everything happening recently. — Carol Dunn, parent

Officials with P.E.I.'s Department of Health and Lifelong Learning said in a statement they have been working to ensure a smooth transition to remote learning for more than a year.

The department has put out the remote learning guide to help parents and students get online.

It was announced on Monday that all Island schools are on elevated risk scenario.

Teachers and school staff have been reaching out to the students to keep them up to date with the latest information.

Learning from home

Parent Carol Dunn has children in the Colonel Gray family of schools — including in West Royalty Elementary School.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

"It's been a little bit nerve wracking with everything happening recently, but we are very fortunate to be in such a great school community," Dunn said.

"Everybody has been so supportive. We've had lots of communication and our children are feeling very at ease at this point in time."

She said her children were already online on Tuesday with the remote learning, after lots of communication with the teachers and school staff.

"It means quite a bit. We are very lucky that we have had this situation before where we were online learning," Dunn said. "So it is an easy transition this time, but, again, it's very nice to have a lot of support."

'A lot of questions left to ask'

Opposition education critic Steve Howard echoes what Dunn said, that his family experienced good communication from school teachers and staff.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

It's the communication at the upper levels of government that Howard is concerned with. He said they have been trying to get more information about the back-to-school plan since late July.

"This plan might have been a good plan back before the delta variant was a variable here, but now we have the delta variant and things have changed," Howard said.

"There's plenty of questions to be asked about what the plan is … and what we will be doing moving forward. There is a lot of questions left to ask."

The province's Standing Committee on Education and Economic Growth was set to discuss the back-to-school plan on Tuesday, but it was cancelled.

Education Minister Natalie Jameson requested the meeting be postponed in light of the temporary school closures. That meeting has been moved to Sept. 21.

Howard said the government was very collaborative at the start of the pandemic, but feels stakeholders and other parties have been shut out of the decision-making process as of late.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

"I've had a lot of concerns raised to me from various perspectives — whether it be students, whether it be teachers and staff, whether it be parents or whether it be the extended family of the close contacts of those that would be involved," Howard said.

"And I just wanted to bring those to light so they could be incorporated into the plan, and the concerns addressed in the plan, but there was never an opportunity to do so."

Next steps

More deep cleaning has been taking place, Carpenter said, as well as natural ventilation when mechanical ventilation is not available.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

Mask measures will be stricter and cohorting will be required for Grades K-6.

Carpenter said the temporary closures will be a way for the schools to be prepared for the uncertainty of the pandemic.

"If there's cases and they can be isolated and we deem schools safe for other students, then I think that's an expectation that we may need to wrap our heads around," Carpenter said.

"Have learning when we can have learning."

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