What students and parents should know as school starts on P.E.I.

Students start returning to P.E.I. public schools Tuesday, though classes will resume for some on Sept 9. Here are some things you should know before sending your child back to class.

Schools are open for the first time since March

School will look different for students on P.E.I. when they return to class Tuesday. (Shutterstock/Halfpoint)

Students on P.E.I. start returning to school buildings Tuesday.

Here are some things you should know before sending your child back to class. The information has been gathered from past CBC News stories and from the Government of P.E.I. website and social media platforms.

What happens if a child gets sick in school?

The Public Schools Branch says each case will be handled individually, but no child will be sent home because they have one symptom of COVID-19. If they start to show symptoms that are not the norm, like excessive tiredness or a fever, you can expect a call, though. Until they can be picked up by a parent or guardian, they will be taken to a "sick room" at the school, where they will be isolated away from other children.

Parents, students and school staff will be asked to screen for any symptoms every morning; anyone feeling unwell should stay home.

While a student is away from school being tested for COVID-19, the rest of that child's household does not have to isolate as well before the results are back, public health and school officials clarified in a Facebook Live on Aug. 31. 

What happens if a student tests positive for COVID-19?

Students may return to school 14 days after the date of the positive test and if it has been more than 24 hours since their last symptom — other than a residual cough — occurred. 

It's 20 days for students with severe illness or compromised immune systems.

If a student is required to self-isolate, parents or caregivers will need to isolate as well. If feasible, one parent or caregiver could self-isolate with a child in a part of the house or apartment away from other household members.

Anyone who has been identified as a close contact of a case will be asked to get tested and isolate for 14 days from the date of their last exposure to the positive case.

Are masks mandatory in schools?

Non-medical masks will be required in some circumstances, where physical distancing cannot be maintained. Students must wear masks on buses, when walking between classes in school hallways and during fire and lockdown drills.

Masks will be available at schools for students who do not have them.

While at school, students should store their masks in a paper or fabric bag with their name on it. Reusable masks should be taken home and laundered daily or at least several times per week. It is a good idea for students to have two masks, at a minimum, to ensure they have a clean one.

Will students be punished for refusing to wear a mask?

The government says it understands that refusals may be connected to fear, anxiety or lack of understanding and that "punitive discipline is not the best option."

It says school staff should focus on developing strong relationships with students as the foundation for managing school behaviour. Social stories, practice and other behavioural strategies will be used to help students learn to wear a mask when necessary; "progressive discipline" will be used to deal with students who still refuse. When a student cannot comply for health reasons, physical distancing, handwashing or other protective measures will be necessary.

Family members are encouraged to sit together on school buses. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

What safety measures are in place on school buses?

Students are required to wear masks on buses, according to an Aug. 28 statement from the province. Family members are encouraged to sit together on the bus. Where possible, bus routes will be rerouted to minimize ridership and transfers.

Parents are being encouraged to drive their kids to and from school, when possible, to reduce the number of children on any individual school bus.

One more change: Children will not be able to get a pass to travel on a bus not their own (to attend an after-school birthday party, for example); the only exceptions would be for reasons related to after-school child care.

What safety measures are in place in schools? 

Officials have committed to more and deeper cleaning and disinfecting of school facilities. There will be fewer or no evening activities or rentals by outside groups, because that would mean a need for extra cleaning. Students may be asked to get involved in cleaning their desks when they leave class for the day as well.

For students in the youngest grades, where much learning is play-based, teachers will be asked to keep track of what hands-on materials are being used in order to make sure custodians know what needs to be sanitized afterward.  

Students can expect to see directional arrows on the floors and walls to tell them how to travel through the buildings most safely. And students might want to bring a refillable water bottle to class; the Chief Public Health Officer has asked that all school water fountains be turned off, according to a letter sent home to parents by Colonel Gray High School. 

Will students be behind in their learning outcomes, given how the school year ended last semester?

This is a challenge faced by all jurisdictions across Canada. P.E.I.'s Department of Education and Lifelong Learning and the two education authorities have worked to revise the curriculum for September to address learning gaps and curriculum outcomes that could not be taught in the spring. 

Will classes be smaller?

Classes will be similar in size to other years, and no maximum class size has been set. Where physical distancing cannot be maintained, the province is encouraging enhanced hand hygiene and cleaning protocols.

Did the province consider a blend of in-class and at-home instruction?

The province says it considered all options and the necessary resources required, but decided to have children in the classroom five days a week because that's where it believes students learn best. That could change if the COVID-19 situation gets worse.

Will students have access to meal programs?

The six healthy school food pilots that began in January will continue this fall at Kinkora Regional High, Amherst Cove Consolidated, Somerset Consolidated, Ecole Pierre-Chiasson, West Kent Elementary and Montague Regional High. 

All other schools will be able to order lunches from local vendors, which will be delivered to schools each day. 

Can students participate in extra-curricular activities?

Yes, provided they follow the Chief Public Health Office's guidelines for large organized and multiple gatherings. Student committees are encouraged to plan virtual events as much as possible.

Outdoor sports including field hockey, soccer, senior baseball and golf can start tryouts on Sept. 14.  Indoor sports, as well as cross-country, will remain paused.

There will be no out-of-province student travel until further notice.

Physical education, music and other specialty classes will still be offered.

What happens if there's a second wave of COVID-19? 

If school and public health officials have to recommend school closures, as they did in the spring, education officials will be in better shape to offer at-home learning materials. In the Aug. 31 Facebook Live, the Public Schools Branch suggested Chromebooks and other devices could be sent home with students. The curriculum will be compressed at the beginning of this September to offer the most important "foundational learnings" at the beginning of the term to give students a good base if they have to leave school again. And a change from the spring: If a family's wifi access isn't great, officials will plan to get hard copies of teaching materials out to students. 

Where can I find each school's operational plan?

Right here.

More back-to-school stories from CBC P.E.I.