STEVE HOWARD: The Minister of Education must prioritize Island children. She must take responsibility.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has been saying since the spring of 2020 that ventilation is a factor in the spread of COVID. In June of this year, PHAC said ventilation was of particular concern regarding how quickly and easily the more contagious Delta variant spreads in buildings.

The department has known for two summers that inadequate ventilation is a problem for Island schools when it comes to the spread of COVID. In fact, ventilation is a problem in our schools that preceded the pandemic. Yet, the King government has done nothing to fix this problem.

The federal government, fully understanding the need to provide a safe learning environment for students, made millions of dollars available to provinces to improve air quality in schools. Instead of spending those dollars, the King government left its share of the money unspent. That is irresponsible.

Despite having the time and evidence necessary to adequately safeguard our children, the King government chose to do nothing until the absolute last moment. In late August, the Minister of Education released a plan that was inadequate and rushed. Consultation also did not happen with stakeholders. Now we have the highest case count since the pandemic began.

Yesterday we heard the Minister say ventilation improvements will be in the next capital budget. The director of the Public School Boards also said any improvements will not be made during the school year. What that means is, many Island children will remain in overcrowded classrooms breathing stale air for at least another year. This is unacceptable.

We realize portable air filtration systems are not a suitable replacement for adequate ventilation, physical distancing, and other hygienic measures. However, they do offer additional protections for Island schools without mechanical ventilation. To protect our children and school staff, I am asking the Minister to immediately do the following three things:

  1. As a temporary solution – invest in portable air filtration systems for those schools without adequate ventilation for this school year;
  2. Reduce overcrowding situations in our classrooms; and
  3. Begin the process of procuring improved mechanical ventilation for all Island schools, in particular those without ventilation systems.

The Minister must prioritize Island children. She must take responsibility. Anything less is an absolute abdication of responsibility and demonstrates a shocking lack of concern for our children.