Saskatchewan

Sask. government says no need for emergency debate on school plan after NDP demand

The Saskatchewan NDP are asking for an emergency debate in the legislature on the school reopen plan but the government says that is not necessary.

Premier's office to release financial update on provincial deficit next Thursday

NDP Leader Ryan Meili wants a chance to debate the school reopening plan in the assembly, but the government says work on the plan can continue without recalling the legislature. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

The Saskatchewan NDP's request for an emergency debate in the legislature on the school reopening plan has been deemed unnecessary by the provincial government.

"Instead of stepping up and finding a solution, this government wasted so much time they had to delay the return to school. With all of this confusion, it's time for families, teachers, school staff and school divisions to get real answers from this government," NDP leader Ryan Meili said Friday.

Meili said MLAs could return as early as Monday, if necessary.

"This is not something that takes a great deal of time to arrange. We can get back there and we're ready to go. This needs to happen urgently. Sept. 8 will be here very very soon. And it is absolutely crucial that we get that right."

The premier's office released a statement Friday afternoon saying parents will receive school-specific plans next Wednesday.

"Our government remains confident in Saskatchewan's Safe Schools Plan. This work will continue without recalling the legislature."

In the spring, the NDP had pushed for the legislature to resume after it was suspended in March. MLAs returned for 14 days in June and July.

Meili said he is not in favour of further delaying the start of the school year, he said issues like class size, ventilation and getting test results quickly are key issues that need to be discussed and worked out.

The government said it will "continue to implement and assess" the reopening plan with Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, the education response planning team and the province's 27 school divisions.

Financial update next week

The government's statement also said that next Thursday, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer will release an update on the province's 2020-21 deficit, "as well as economic and fiscal outlooks through to the fiscal year of 2024-25."

Harpauer will include the latest figures from the Ministry of Health and the $40 million designated for schools from the government's $200 million COVID-19 contingency fund.

"With the release of this fiscal update, Saskatchewan will become the first jurisdiction in Canada to provide detailed medium-term outlooks and future year projections factoring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," the premier's office said.

Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer will release a financial update and forecast for future projections on Thursday. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

On June 15, Harpauer released the government's forecast of a $2.4 billion deficit — what Harpauer called a "pandemic deficit" — for 2020-21.

The NDP criticized the government for not including future forecasts in its stripped-down budget but Harpauer said uncertainty caused by COVID-19 made projections difficult.

2 million masks en route to schools by Tuesday 

Friday's update from the premier's officer said approximately 2 million masks would be available to school divisions no later than next Tuesday.

The masks are part of the 6 million which were ordered for $2.3 million. The government said "the balance of the PPE order" is expected to be distributed the first week of September.

It said school divisions are expected to make masks available daily regardless of whether a school is under Level 2, which calls for masks to be worn.

On Thursday, The Canadian Press reported that 24 of 27 Saskatchewan school divisions will require masks to be worn in school.

Money, testing and calls for more measures

On Monday, Premier Scott Moe announced $40 million from a $200 million COVID-19 contingency would be spent on the return-to-school plan.

The $40 million will be allocated as follows:

  • $20 million will be available to school divisions on an application basis for pandemic-related costs including staffing and sanitation supplies.
  • $10 million will be available to enhance non-classroom options like distance learning to help ensure immunocompromised and medically fragile students have continuous access to learning across school divisions, available on an application basis.
  • $10 million will be allocated to the Ministry of Education to centrally procure masks, PPE and other supplies for school divisions.

Moe posted a video on social media on Saturday which said the school year would be delayed by a week to allow school divisions more time.

On Monday, Moe defended the plan amid criticism from some parents, teachers and even doctors.

"The plan as it came out was built to be adaptable," Moe said. "It was built to address what is a very fluid situation. What we have done is build on the funding of that plan in allocating new dollars from our contingency fund into the education sector."

Last week, the department of pediatrics at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine followed the Saskatchewan Medical Association and College of Family physicians asking for changes to the school plan.

The department of pediatrics sent a letter to the Education Minister calling for a "robust" plan.

The department said schools should reopen as early as possible but that the province needs to do it right. The pediatricians are calling for smaller class sizes, consistent contact tracing and rapid test results in all schools.

The letter also asked for "increased funding for masks, cleaning supplies, environmental cleaning and improving ventilation."

On Monday, Dr. Shahab said enhanced testing that will be done on teachers and students means the province will find COVID-19 cases in schools. But the occasional case, or cluster of cases, shouldn't be cause for concern, he said.

"Information is really important to help us further manage the school reopening, but it should not always create concern or panic if there's a test positive," Dr. Shahab said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

with files from Alex Soloducha

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