How the Public Schools Branch plans to deal with sick children during the pandemic
‘No child will be going home because they have one symptom’
Not every student who develops a cold or a sniffle will be sent home from school, says the acting director of the P.E.I. Public Schools Branch.
Norbert Carpenter was speaking to a legislative standing committee in Charlottetown on Tuesday, which was examining how ready the school system is to welcome students back to class Sept. 8 in the middle of a global pandemic.
Carpenter said the school system is ready.
For parents concerned about their children being sent home at the first sign of a sniffle or cough, he said each case will be handled individually.
"We know this is a situation we will face and we will face it early but no, not every kid that has a sniffle will be sent home," Carpenter said in an interview.
Carpenter said school officials will be relying on parents to do a bit of an informal checklist before they send their children to school.
'Unknown certainly causes anxiety'
"If the child has a runny nose but no other symptoms and they feel fine and that's normal for that child then that child is fine to go to school," said Carpenter.
"No child will be going home because they have one symptom. If they have symptoms that are not the norm like excessive tiredness, a fever, of course that child should be home."
Carpenter and Bethany MacLeod, deputy minister of education, took questions from P.E.I. MLAs for nearly three hours on Tuesday.
Opposition Green MLA Lynne Lund said she's hearing from a lot of parents who are still unclear what happens if their children develops COVID-like symptoms. A child sent home will not only impact the students, Lund said, but also the family's income, particularly if those parents have to self-isolate for 14 days.
"I think what we've heard today is a lot of it is unknown," she said.
"We are doing a really good job of trying to put together a plan, but we can only plan for so much because this is going to be fluid, Things are going to change rapidly and I think that unknown certainly causes anxiety for parents."
Carpenter said school officials are holding exercises on what to do if a student or a teacher tests positive for COVID-19.
"If a child in a class tested positive the likelihood of the class needing to self-isolate would be very high. Anyone that had a prolonged contact with that student would be asked to self-isolate and a subsequent test would be required," he said.
That is also the case for a staff member and the Public Schools Branch is taking steps to ensure it has the staff in place to deal with the new demands of a global pandemic.
'We have called in some extra people to help'
The Public School Branch has hired 198 new teachers, educational assistants, cleaners and bus drivers. There were 39 positions hired through the operational budget with the remaining positions coming out of the COVID-19 contingency fund.
Carpenter said all but a handful of positions have been filled.
He said the Public Schools Branch is now in the process of a "mass hiring" for substitutes.
The Public Schools Branch had to bring in additional help to deal with more than 250 interviews for substitute teachers, cleaners, bus drivers and administrative staff.
"We know there's going to be a need there and we have called in some extra people to help us with that," said Carpenter.
P.E.I. MLAs also had questions about whether students should be wearing masks.
Carpenter said it is a fluid situation and masks may become mandatory at some point during the school year. But he said students should be wearing masks on buses, when walking between classes in hallways and during fire and lock down drills.
"We are strongly recommending that every child have a mask and if a child cannot take a mask to school there will be some available at the school."