Why 1 small Regina school insists on daily temperature checks, 4-day weeks and mandatory masks in class
'We've got one chance to get this right,' says Prairie Sky School principal David Vanderberg
David Vanderberg says his school's back-to-school plan exceeds the minimum safety standards set out by Saskatchewan health officials "because the bar is not set very high."
"We feel as though we've got one chance to get this right," said Vanderberg, the principal of Regina's Prairie Sky School.
The school, which falls under the category of "qualified independent schools" that receive half of their funding from the province, only has about 80 students total, spread across Grades 1 to 8.
When Prairie Sky's students return to class next month, they will have their temperatures checked daily by the front gate and be required to wear masks inside the classroom (though much of the school's teaching happens outside, Vanderberg said).
Kindergarten students will be exempt from that rule, but will need to wear face shields.
The school will also cut its schedule to four days a week, down from four and a half.
"[That's] one less day in the week that that potential transmission could occur," Vanderberg said.
Responding to 'a complete lack of leadership'
Prairie Sky School released its plan on Tuesday, the same day the province outlined minimum standards for mandatory masking and clarified that individual school boards would decide when to make the move to "Level 2" and require masks.
Vanderberg said Tuesday was the earliest his school could publicly release its plan because the province approved the plans for public and separate school divisions first and did not approve Prairie Sky School's plan until Monday.
He said the province's larger back-to-school strategy "demonstrates a complete lack of leadership."
"It is putting the onus of student safety and staff safety on individual school boards and individual schools as opposed to taking the responsibility for that as a Ministry of Education and as the government of Saskatchewan," Vanderberg said.
Carla Beck, the Saskatchewan NDP's education critic, has criticized the province's a-la-carte approach, saying it leaves school divisions open to "political fallout."
Education Minister Gord Wyant has defended the choice, saying what works for a small school may not be appropriate for a larger one.
Not all families on board with masking
Vanderberg said a minority of families have requested to withdraw their child from the school because of the masking policy, but that other families want in because of the plan.
"The best we can do is say that we can put you on the waiting list," he said.
Vanderberg said the school has tried to keep the conversation around masking "as fact-based as possible."
"Overwhelmingly the response from the education community, the American medical community, in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada has been that masking, when social distancing is not a possibility, is effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19," he said. "So that's what we're going with."
According to the minimum Level 2 standards released by the province Tuesday, Saskatchewan students in Grades 4 to 12 at schools using that level will need to wear masks in hallways, buses and other high traffic areas. Inside classrooms, however, "masks may be required….where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing or where students are outside of the cohort within their classroom."
Vanderberg said the province allowed schools go over and above the minimum standards, so that's what Prairie Sky School did.
Vanderberg acknowledged daily temperature checks will require a robust supply of thermometers.
"But that's our job. And that's important. And we're going to find the money," he said.
The school pays for the other half of its budget through fundraising, scholarships, donations and tuition.