PEI

Montague Consolidated, Eliot River schools to close early in June for renovations

The Public Schools Branch says in-person learning will finish a few weeks early this spring for students at Eliot River and Montague Consolidated schools.

Change to school calendar approved by Minister of Education this week, parents notified

Eliot River Elementary School is one of two schools that will stop in-person learning on June 10. The school year is scheduled to go until June 28. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

The Public Schools Branch says in-person learning will finish a few weeks early this spring for students at Eliot River and Montague Consolidated schools.

Both schools are getting previously announced multi-million dollar renovations over the course of several years, but the branch said it was told the work being carried out by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure cannot be completed within the summer months.

"They need a few extra weeks to be able to complete the work. It's not ideal for us, and we do realize it will present some challenges for some families," said Norbert Carpenter, director of the Public School's Branch.

The last day of in-person instruction for those schools will be Friday, June 10. The last scheduled instructional day for the school year is Tuesday, June 28 — leaving families with 12 school days where they will have to arrange for care for their children.

Parents were notified about the change this week, but Carpenter said it is still early and the branch does not yet know if there will be remote learning during those days.

"For anything like this to happen, we do have to ask to have an amendment to the school calendar and be approved by the Minister of Education, and we were very anxious to get this approved early so we could message … parents as early as possible," he said. 

The branch described the work as "very intrusive," ranging from ventilation to internal structures, and that it cannot be completed with children in the building.

'Childcare is vital'

Carpenter said he understands the change will cause strain for some families.

Norbert Carpenter, Public Schools Branch director, says they plan to explore options to help families manage their childcare and financial situations for those 12 days the kids should have been in school. (CBC)

"I am not going to deflect the issue that childcare is vital, and it's vital to our economy and the functioning of society in general, so we would definitely be very interested in hearing from parents as we draw closer as to how we can help with that," he said, again emphasizing that it's too early to share any plans. 

"We're committed to working with the communities, with government, to figure out solutions so that people can go to work and childcare is not a concern that prevents them from going to work."

The director said they are starting to consider alternative childcare options for those weeks.

They need to get as much days in school as they possibly can.— April Richards, parent.

"We do have great support in both communities. We do have some facilities in both communities, both schools are within a municipality that has a recreational department that may be able to help," Carpenter said. 

"We've had some initial conversations with government in terms of what we could do if faced with numbers of families that need support not only with the care of their children, but also the financial support 

"We're committed to making sure we can help and be a voice at that table to say, you know, families do need support because of this."

Parent says children need to be in school

April Richards has a daughter who just started at Eliot River Elementary School, which has grades four to six. She said she was a bit shocked when she found out this week.

"It's just concerning, the time missed. I do know that some children need the structure, they need to be in school," she said. 

"Whether it's their home life or whatever the need is, is that they need to get as much days in school as they possibly can."

Richards has worked in the school system as a substitute educational assistant and said she sees the impact that missed time can have on children.

April Richards has a daughter at Eliot River Elementary School and says she wants her to be in school as much as possible so as not to fall behind. (Submitted)

"It's not just the instructional time …  I think of how the kids felt during COVID and how their school year ended so abruptly and they missed out on a lot of the activities that happens near the end of the school year," she said.

"It's a little bit disappointing in that sense, for the children."

And while Richards is not concerned about her own childcare needs, she worries for other families.

"It's kind of hard as a parent, especially a working parent, and trying to schedule [that] extra childcare as far as time. And even financially, that's hard — the extra two weeks to get your child into childcare and have them situated," she said.

"I was just, you know, a little bit concerned about how the time would be made up and, you know, how it would affect my child's learning?"

Carpenter said each school principal has individually tackled how the students will make up the time, and by altering transition times and the bell schedule slightly throughout the day, the time will be made up in both cases.

"With a combination of protecting the instructional time, adding a few more minutes, making some learning options available to students while they're at home during those few weeks, we feel we can address the gaps there," he said. 

On track to reopen September 2022

Carpenter said the Public Schools Branch was initially given the option of conducting the work in June or September of 2022. It decided on June and then negotiated to have the school close June 10 instead of June 1.

"This is a multi-year plan, so we will do everything in our power not to have extended closures in September. If it has to be on the other end of this, in terms of the year three progression, then that's what we would prefer," he said.

"We've been assured that the work can be done during this time."

The branch said there will be more information to share with parents and families in the weeks and months ahead.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola MacLeod grew up on P.E.I., where she is now a multi-platform reporter and producer for CBC. Got a story? Email nicola.macleod@cbc.ca

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