P.E.I. students expected to test regularly for COVID-19 when they return to school next week
Prince Edward Island students will be expected to test regularly for COVID-19 and wear masks at all times when they return to class next week.
Students on P.E.I. have been learning virtually but are set to return to school Monday.
“We know that in-class learning is the best option for our students,” said Education andLifelong Learning Minister Natalie Jameson during a news conference on Thursday.
“It is the optimal learning environment and it is where our kids get to see their friends and have these social interactions and opportunities, which are so important.”
Jameson said things will look a bit different when students return to school and they are following all recommendations from public health to facilitate a successful return.
Meanwhile, she is encouraging parents and guardians to consider driving their children to and from school, if they are able to do so, rather than sending them on the bus.
“It certainly will help to minimize the risk of exposure on our buses, especially those buses that transport children from multiple schools,” she explained.
Jameson said students and staff members will receive 10 COVID-19 test kits and are expected to test regularly for the virus during the first three weeks of school.
Students are being directed to test twice, 48 hours apart, before returning to school on Monday. This means they should take a COVID-19 test on Saturday morning and again on Monday morning, said Jameson.
They are then expected to test three times per week – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays -- for the first three weeks of school.
“We recognize that this will be difficult for some families, but remember, testing is in the best interest of your child, their school, and the greater community,” said Jameson.
Parents and guardians can pick up five kits this week and another five will be sent home with students next week. Jameson said they should have received an email Wednesday with more details on where and how to pick up the test kits.
She also said there are instructional videos online that show how to conduct a test on yourself and on a child.
Students and staff will be required to wear masks at all times indoors, except when they are eating or during physical activity. Masks must also be worn when riding on a school bus.
There are exceptions for students who have special exemptions.
Parents and guardians will also receive a new mask for their child when they pick up the COVID-19 test kits. The three-layer cotton masks are washable and contain a refillable carbon filter. They are available in child and adult sizes.
Jameson said students and staff should change the filter every two days. Schools will provide additional filters as needed.
Disposable triple-layer masks will also be available at school and on buses if a student forgets their mask or needs a replacement.
“I recognize that this is a lot. As a parent myself, I know these are challenging conversations to have with my five-year-old, explaining the importance of testing and why he has to wear a mask all day, but I do trust our health experts,” said Jameson. “We are doing all we can to protect our children and our communities.”
Staff members who work with medically-compromised children will receive additional PPE (personal protective equipment), such as goggles and face shields.
Students are not required to be vaccinated to return to school, but Jameson said it is strongly encouraged.
“Health PEI has clinics available for all ages so please find a time and location that works for your family,” she said.
OTHER MEASURES IN SCHOOLS
- Unnecessary furniture has been removed from classrooms to support physical distancing
- Cohorts of 50 or fewer will be required wherever possible
- Students and staff are encouraged to select a small, consistent group of friends and colleagues to interact with
- Portable HEPA filters have been installed in schools lacking mechanical ventilation
- Schools will maintain enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols
- There will be no in-person gatherings or assemblies
- School sports can resume for practices and training, but there are to be no games or competitions
- Group extracurricular activities can resume if physical distancing can be maintained at all times
“Even with these precautions, we know that there is still a risk of COVID being present in our schools and we are preparing for that they might look like,” acknowledged Jameson.
She said substitute lists for teachers, educational assistants, bus drivers and other essential staff are constantly being updated, and there will be new at-home support models for students who are required to isolate and cannot attend school in person.
Parents and guardians are being asked to notify their school if their child tests positive for COVID-19.
“That way we can set up academic supports for your students and, if needed, we can help support public health nursing with contact tracing,” said Jameson.
She said there are COVID-19 response teams in place to support case and contact management when students and staff test positive for the coronavirus.
All school and bus exposure notices will be posted on the English and French language school board websites. Emails will also be sent through the PowerSchool database.
Parents can also opt in to receive text alerts from schools as part of a new school messenger program being launched soon. Jameson said the text alerts will be used for emergencies, such as school evacuations and bus accidents, as well as early dismissals and to alert parents to COVID-19 exposures.
More details on the program are coming next week.
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