Sask. government releases back-to-school guidelines
Open to feedback on guidelines, education minister says
The Saskatchewan government has unveiled its guidelines for schools as they prepare for students to return to in-class learning in September.
The guidelines were released on the government website and include sections on students with intensive needs, eating lunches, transportation to schools and supplies, among other areas of concern related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are going to be encouraging physical distancing in schools, to the extent that that is possible," said Education Minister Gordon Wyant on Thursday.
Wyant was responding to a question about splitting classes based on size or the possibility of bringing in extra school staff.
"From my perspective, I don't think you're going to see any material changes with respect to those numbers," Wyant said.
Alternative arrangements will need to be made for students who are immunocompromised or whose parents choose not to send them back to school. Wyant said the province's response planning team is discussing what the arrangements could look like.
The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation said in a news release that the guidelines still leave questions. It said the pandemic has exposed "student inequities" in terms of a lack of support, and a lack of access to learning resources and equipment.
Carla Beck, education critic for the Saskatchewan NDP, says the guidelines lack details and agrees they raise some questions.
"There are going to be increased costs and increased staffing requirements because of the guidelines, but also just to maintain safety for students," Beck said. "What we don't see here is who is going to be paying for that increased cost."
Wyant said the guidelines were released now to allow as much time as possible for school divisions and teachers to prepare for the beginning of the school year. He said the government is open to feedback.
"We're going to be putting in a plan so that we will be able to do contact tracing for kids who are on buses," Wyant said. "But at the present time, there is no plan to restrict the number of children that are on a bus."
Parents are asked to transport their children to school themselves whenever possible. Students and staff who display symptoms of COVID-19 are asked to stay home.
If there is a positive case of COVID-19 in a household, all members will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
Wyant said there are conversations about additional supports that may be needed for schools, such as cleaning costs and personal protective equipment.
He also mentioned the $200-million contingency fund announced in the provincial budget for COVID-19. Some school divisions may also have money saved from the suspension of the school year due the pandemic in March, he said.
Low risk in schools, Shahab says
"Even if there were two or three children in the class [with an illness], or there was an outbreak within the school, I don't think that necessarily means that the school needs to shut down again," said Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer.
Some alternatives to shutting classes down include an increased emphasis on washing hands when soiled, and using hand sanitizer or other sanitary safety measures like PPE, the doctor added.
Based on data from other jurisdictions, the risks of COVID-19 in schools are low and the symptoms mild if the disease is present, Shahab said.
The province's guidelines mention teaching children to minimize physical contact rather than distancing.
Wyant said asking children to keep physical distance isn't always practical and that instead the focus should be on mitigating risks. He suggested air high fives and shadow tag as alternatives to contact with other students.
The handling of school equipment or items by multiple people is also being discouraged.
Read the full guidelines here:
With files from Adam Hunter