P.E.I. schools will reopen in September, Education Minister Brad Trivers announced on Thursday.
Following question period, Trivers told MLAs that his department had been given the green light by the Chief Public Health Office (CPHO) to plan for a full return to school in September.
The CPHO will have guidelines developed to ensure precautions are in place for students, Trivers said. The guidelines will include contingency plans for a second wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain).
"The education and well-being of our young people is very important to Islanders,” Trivers said.
“We all recognize that the classroom environment provides the best opportunity for students to learn and develop, both socially and emotionally.”
Trivers said the guidelines would set out protocols in many areas, including the set-up of classrooms, hand-washing protocols, staggered drop-offs and pick-ups and cafeteria food programs.
Previously, education officials had said the province was looking at three scenarios for the fall, including a full return to schools, continued home-learning or a combination of the two.
Trivers said the full plan for a return to school will be publicly released by the end of June.
In an interview, Trivers said the plans will vary from school to school. He said the restrictions on class sizes may mean additional spaces outside of school buildings could be used for classroom space.
"We want to use our schools as much as possible," Trivers said.
"If we need to go to community centres or other retail spaces, those are the sort of things we'll look at."
Trivers said the CPHO is still working on what will happen for students if there is a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.
"I think it's very challenging from their perspective as well. They say things like 'it depends’,” Trivers said.
“If we have an outbreak and it's all in Souris (for example), maybe we just need to close the Souris schools. But if we have an outbreak and it's across the province, that's another different scenario."
Green education critic Karla Bernard, speaking in response to the announcement, brought up a recent report produced by Sick Kids. She questioned the need for stringent physical distancing for students.
"According to Sick Kids, they are recommending that there is no social distancing, that children do not wear masks because that is more detrimental to their psychological health than COVID is to their physical health," Bernard said.
Bernard suggested the recent funding to hire 24 additional teachers and 15 additional education assistants, including in Wednesday’s provincial budget, would likely accommodate expanded physical distancing for students.
Liberal MLA Robert Mitchell called Trivers’ announcement “late to the party”.
"(For) far too long we have heard complaints from families and educators that this government has failed to ensure that Island students were able to access the education supports needed during this very difficult, troubling times," Mitchell said.
“Students deserve better than half-hearted reassurance that their education will continue without interruption."