Sask. parents worried about provincial back-to-school plan as September quickly approaches
As of now, bulk of the planning will fall to school divisions and boards
There are just over five weeks until children in Saskatchewan are set to head back to school, and some parents are bracing for tough decisions.
Saskatchewan has released its guidelines for a school restart this fall. As of right now, the bulk of the planning will fall to school divisions and school boards — something parent Elya Lam says isn't right.
Lam, who has two school-aged children in Saskatoon and used to be a teacher, says the province should create, enforce and fund a more detailed plan for students and staff to go back in the fall.
The guidelines are suggestions, but Lam said a plan needs to be applied provincewide and created with public health officials at the helm, rather than leaving school divisions to fend for themselves.
"School systems are not being held to the same level of health and safety standards as other businesses in our community," Lam said.
Lam pointed to the fact that there are no provincial mandates for physical distancing or personal protective equipment in schools.
"All of the other information that has been coming from our government throughout this pandemic ... has been 'you must physically distance, you must wear PPE.' These are proven ways to prevent, to stop the spread of COVID-19," Lam said.
"It seems insane that you would then disregard those for our students and our school staff."
A section in the guidelines suggests students and staff should have their own hand sanitizer, but Lam says the province's high child poverty rate suggests there will be financial barriers to that idea.
"When they are unable to bring an entire year's worth of sanitation supplies, who is going to provide those? Teachers should not be expected to cover that shortfall. School division budgets don't have the extra funds to provide those additional supplies."
Lam isn't even sure what she and her family will do with regard to school come fall. Right now, there just isn't enough information, she said.
She has written to the premier, her MP, her MLA, the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the COVID-19 response team and the education minister recently regarding her concerns. She said the response has either been an acknowledgement they've received her email, or silence.
A response to Lam's email from the education ministry simply said it is working in the best interests of children.
Premier Scott Moe said in a press conference Tuesday that discussions on this continue and that stakeholders like the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association are involved.
Worries about work
Like Lam, Lindsay Sanderson is uncertain of what she'll do come fall.
Her son is supposed to start kindergarten in the fall.
Sanderson runs a small business in Saskatoon doing postpartum work, which was forced to shut down because of COVID-19, but she worries she'll have to leave the workforce in order to care for her child. The government's plan doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for families, she said.
"To rebuild a client base takes weeks. So, in the meantime between them releasing the plan, them making a decision, me finding economic work so that we can continue to keep a roof over our head … what's going to happen there?"
Increased cleaning guidelines are among the government's recommendations. Sanderson said she'd like to know who is supposed to be in charge of that. If it's teachers, she wonders how they'll find the time in their day.
"Where's the funding for the PPE? Gloves, masks, all the extra cleaning supplies and disinfectants that they're going to need? That stuff is expensive," she said.
"At the bare minimum, there needs to be an increase in budget for janitorial supplies and janitorial workers."
Sanderson also said she reached out to government with her concerns.