It may still feel like a lifetime away, but school is just around the corner for Island children and youth. Store shelves are packed with back to school supplies and teachers are beginning to plan the curriculum. Last week during the COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Morrison said the back to school plan for COVID would be released by the end of the week, yet the King government still has not announced any type of plan to keep kids, teachers, and staff safe.
COVID has long been thought of as a virus that has little impact on children and youth, but the virus is changing and evidence is reflecting that. This month Florida and Texas reported hundreds of pediatric patients in hospital for COVID. The virus is spreading quickly among unvaccinated people and, unfortunately, every one of our children under 12 are in that group.
PEI also has no mandatory mask guidelines. We are now open to the rest of Canada and the US. And in a few short weeks our children will be grouped together by the hundreds. For our students in primary and elementary schools, the vast majority will not have a vaccine.
This doesn’t mean that we need to fear the new school year. There are many options that will ensure our students’ safety, both physically and mentally. Students can safely attend school when the right plan is in place. But we need a plan. I’ve spoken with many parents this summer and, as the weeks go by, they are becoming more and more anxious about the lack of plans for this coming year. Parents want to know that government is prioritizing their children.
Other provinces have already announced their back to school plans. Some include masking, cohorting, or large investments in increased ventilation – which is recommended by top experts and is one of the asks in the Official Opposition’s capital budget submission to government.
Our students’ safety should be a top priority. I would expect the Minister has been diligently working all summer on a plan that will keep our students safe, but I am not seeing evidence of this. Islanders are telling me they are ready to see that plan. I am calling on the Minister to release the plan for school 2021/22 immediately. Parents, teachers, staff, and our students deserve time to review it and provide feedback so we can all have a safe and healthy school year.
Steve Howard, MLA
Official Opposition Critic for Education and Lifelong Learning