Parents say province should implement stricter school rules rather than leaving it to divisions
'I am not OK with any kids in our province being at risk of catching COVID,' says Saskatoon mom
The Saskatchewan government has offered guidelines for school divisions wanting to take a more cautious approach in the fall, but some parents say rules should apply to schools across the province.
On Tuesday, Education Minister Gord Wyant said the 27 school divisions will get to choose back-to-school rules suited to their location and facilities.
Some school divisions will start at the province's Level 2, which would see students in grades 4 through 12 wearing masks in high traffic areas like hallways or on the bus.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said it would be "reasonable" for schools to open next month with a masking policy in place, but he didn't implement a provincial mandate on masks.
"Every school division is different, every school is different and we really think that in terms of ensuring that there is adequate protection by students, that local school divisions in concert with their local health officers will be the best at determining where masks are appropriate and where they're not," said Wyant.
Elya Lam is a Saskatoon mom of four who helps run the Keep Saskatchewan Kids Safe group on Facebook and Twitter. She said mandatory masking, proper ventilation, reduced classroom sizes and a testing and tracing system should be implemented in every division.
"When we leave those decisions in the hands of individual school divisions we're going to risk creating a system in this province where one group of students and staff are possibly going to be better protected than another group," said Lam. "And as a mom, I am not OK with any kids in our province being at risk of catching COVID or being at risk of dying."
The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation said guidelines that have been suggested to school divisions are only effective if applied consistently.
"In a time of crisis, we should be able to rely on public health directives, rather than suggestions, to ensure a healthy and safe return to school. We had hoped for a more definitive response and consistent approach across the province," said STF president Patrick Maze in an emailed statement. "Planning and implementation will also be extremely challenging given that there are only three weeks until school starts."
Mother says school should be delayed by a month to improve regulations
Many doctors have also said that sending kids back to school with few concrete rules could lead to an increase in infections. The Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians and the Saskatchewan Medical Association both called for a more cautious approach, with the suggestion of mandatory masking.
Janice Braden, who has a 16-year-old daughter starting Grade 10 in Saskatoon in the fall, said that should be taken into consideration.
"If the Saskatchewan government can produce a plan that has the stamp of approval from the Saskatchewan Medical Association I think parents would say, 'OK that's good enough," said Braden.
"But until that happens I don't think that we're going to be happy and right now that's not in place."
Some high schools will work in a block system or may alternate class days for students to limit interactions. Classes will also have staggered start-times and breaks where possible.
Saskatoon Public Schools, where Braden's daughter attends, said it would require students in Grades 4 to 12 to wear a mask in spaces where physical distancing is not possible.
Masks will also be required for all students on buses, although Braden said she will be driving her daughter just to be safe.
Still, Braden said she's nervous about classes starting, especially since that date is drawing near.
"To be frank, I think it's too late for new announcements for Sept. 1," said Braden. "I think we're at the point where we need to think about delaying the school year by a month, perhaps, until they can put a plan that takes all of these considerations."