School divisions make alternate plans for final exams as COVID-19 case counts rise
Regina Public moves online ahead of exams, Regina Catholic makes them optional
Ahead of final exams next week, the Regina Public School Division is moving all of its high school students to remote learning.
Classes will be online for three days, from Thursday until Monday.
The shift to remote learning comes in an effort to reduce the risk of high school students and teachers missing tests due to illness or COVID-19 self-isolation, according to a letter sent to Campbell Collegiate families obtained by CBC News Tuesday morning.
"This temporary shift allows the school division to redeploy substitute staff to other schools that may experience staffing shortages and will further minimize disruption for all students," wrote Nancy Buisson, Campbell's principal.
Regina Public high schools are moving to remote learning for three days (Jan. 20-24). <br><br>The division says it’s in an effort to have teachers available for finals without disruption due to illness/self-isolation, and so students aren’t potentially exposed to COVID before exams. <a href="https://t.co/fG1H4Kxok6">pic.twitter.com/fG1H4Kxok6</a>—@jessieanton_
Regina Public Schools plans to continue with in-person final assessments on Tuesday, as scheduled. However, remote options may be available "as determined by the requirement of the class and the teacher's discretion," the letter says.
Mercedes Phillips, a Grade 11 student at Campbell Collegiate who's currently learning from home, says she's pleased with the division's temporary move to online classes — though she would prefer to see all exams go virtual.
"The anxiety of being in a room and not knowing whether the person in front or behind you has COVID gives a higher anxiety level," she said. "You won't be thinking about your finals. At this point, all the studying you've done isn't going to resonate with you when you're sitting in a desk hearing sneezing and coughing."
Last week, Regina's public schools recorded 526 self-reported COVID-19 cases — 53 of them among staff.
Both Saskatoon's public and separate school divisions are also continuing to go ahead with in-person final exams, though exceptions might be made on an individual basis.
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools saw 799 COVID-19 cases reported last week (Jan. 10-16), while the city's public division had 547 between Jan. 9-15.
Regina Catholic makes final exams optional
The Regina Catholic School Division — which, according to its website, saw roughly 300 self-reported COVID-19 cases last week — has chosen to make its high school final exams optional this semester.
Students who choose to still complete their tests or projects can do so to boost their grade. However, if they decide not to — or they do and score poorly — their final marks will not be affected.
"We didn't want any student to feel penalized or disincentivized to do the right thing and look after their own health — and the health of the rest of the students," said Sean Chase, the division's director of education.
He added that giving students a choice also means potentially hundreds of missed tests will not have to be rescheduled.
Regina Catholic has made finals optional. Students can still take them to better their grades, but if they don’t — or do and score poorly — their marks won’t change.<br><br>The division says it’s so students don’t feel pressured to come to school sick/there’s no rescheduling of tests. <a href="https://t.co/g82t2LMdYC">pic.twitter.com/g82t2LMdYC</a>—@jessieanton_
It's welcome news to many Regina Catholic students — including Annastasia Sweet, a Grade 10 student at Dr. Martin LeBoldus High School.
After isolating at home earlier this month due to a cold, she says the thought of finals was growing heavy.
"It's another huge weight taken off my chest because I know that, technically, if I don't want to take any of my finals, I can just leave it right now and just not come to school for the rest of the semester," she said, noting she already has a 90-per-cent average.
Sweet says she's still debating whether she'll complete all her final exams and projects.
Fellow Leboldus classmate Victoria Adeduro plans to write all of her tests.
"This takes out the stress and anxiety — that anxiousness [of writing] your exams," the Grade 11 student said. "You have some relief in the back of your mind that you're not going to do bad."
WATCH | Regina Catholic high school students weigh in on optional final exams
Good Spirit School Division cancels exams
In the east-central part of Saskatchewan, the Good Spirit School Division — which covers areas around Yorkton, Melville and Canora — has paused final exams for another year.
Quintin Robertson, the division's director of education, says it's largely due to its three main high schools being on "block" schedules, meaning there are four semesters in the school year.
"Because of that, the traditional two-semester system has been removed, and we felt it was too onerous on students and too challenging to have finals," he said, noting there are still unit and mid-term exams students take throughout semesters.
Plus, with COVID-19 cases recently pushing Yorkton Regional High School entirely online for two weeks, Robertson adds that cancelling exams was a welcome option for many.
To make sure students are still ready to take tests in their post-secondary education, he says the division is currently working on a new university preparation course. It aims to teach students how to study and write exams, as well as advocate for their grades.
If all goes well, Robertson says, the division hopes to offer the Grade 12-level class by next year.