The province’s education minister has released some details about how schools on P.E.I. will operate in the fall under coronavirus-related public health measures, but a full operational plan has yet to be released.
P.E.I. schools have been closed since mid-March because of the pandemic. The province plans to reopen all schools in September.
Education Minister Brad Trivers had promised the release of a full plan about school operations in the fall by the end of June.
On Thursday, Trivers tabled a six page document in the legislature that included some details about protocols planned for the fall.
“Specific school plans will be shared with parents and students before school resumes on Sept. 8,” the document said.
Trivers said the document spoke to the broad details for schools across P.E.I.
The plan includes guidelines for all schools to keep students and staff safe, for example:
- Students will work in cohorts, or groups of the same students, as much as possible. Cohorts will distance themselves from other groups to limit exposure to other students.
- Classrooms will be configured to support physical distancing. Schools will work to reduce class sizes and when necessary, alternate space such as multi-purpose rooms will be used as classrooms.
- Lunch and recess breaks will be staggered, as well as drop-off and pick-up times.
- Protocols will be in place to safely move students through the school and reduce congestion in hallways and common areas.
- Students and staff will be required to stay home when they are unwell and there will be screening protocols for all people entering a school.
- Students will be educated on the importance of physical distancing and hand washing.
- Enhanced cleaning protocols will be followed in the school and on the school bus.
- To reduce the number of students on buses, parents will be asked to transport their children to and from school whenever possible and buses will be added where necessary.
"What we've produced here, I believe, is a plan that is very comprehensive. It talks about all the guidelines across all the important areas that we need to address," Trivers said.
Trivers said detailed operational plans would be specific to each school.
“I think everybody’s going to be very happy with the results,” Trivers added.
A key component of plans for physical distancing in schools will involve maintaining students in “cohorts” or groups. Similar plans are in place in Ontario for the fall, with cohorts defined as groups of 15 or fewer students in that province.
P.E.I.’s document does not define how big cohorts of students will be, nor how big class sizes will be. The document does say that student interaction between cohorts will be restricted to maintain physical distancing.
"It's trying to make sure those groups of students interact with each other but stay separate from other groups of students. And then if there is outbreak you can trace (it)," Trivers said.
Libraries and multi-purpose rooms will be used as classrooms when necessary, to offset the smaller class sizes.
“Lunch and recess breaks will be scheduled to keep students in smaller groups and avoid congestion in common areas,” the document says.
The document also says pick-up and drop-off times for students will also be staggered to avoid large gatherings of students.
"To reduce the number of students on school buses, parents will be asked to transport their children to and from school whenever possible," Trivers said.
Trivers also said protocols would be established to reduce congestion in school hallways and signage will be added to reduce foot traffic.
Questions remain about what would happen in the event of a second wave. The document does not include details about what might prompt schools to close.
Trivers said school boards have been asked to prepare for four scenarios.
These could involve:
- in-class learning with a high degree physical distancing in place,
- in-class learning with moderate physical distancing in place,
- at-home learning with some use of schools and
- at-home learning with no access to schools.
In the event of an outbreak of COVID-19, decisions related to schools would vary.
"If it's localized within a particular geography, it might mean a school or a family of schools would be shut down. But it also depends on that contact tracing," Trivers said.
In an interview, Green Education critic Karla Bernard said she had not had time to review the document in detail.
But she said Island parents need a detailed plan for schools now.
"You cannot leave that stuff to the last minute," Bernard said.
Bernard said she also had concerns about the impacts that student cohorts will have on young children.
"You're speaking about young children and little best friends who haven't seen each other in months. They're not allowed to play together in school," Bernard said.
Bernard said she was also concerned moving classes into spaces like libraries and gyms could mean that phys ed or other programs will “be the first to go.”More information on the Welcome Back to School plan can be found here.
Staff will return to school on Sept. 1 and students on Sept. 8.