'No real information': Teachers feel vulnerable as COVID-19 data on infections disappears

COVID-19 continues to spread in Saskatchewan. One school that continues to collect information on cases was able to alert staff and students this week.

Letter sent to parents at one school highlights gap in coronavirus information

Emerald Ridge Elementary School in White City, about 20 kilometres east of Regina. (Alexander Quon/CBC )

A letter sent home to parents by a school in southeastern Saskatchewan highlights the patchwork of information available to guardians about COVID-19 in the province's education system. 

"Over the past week we have noted a significant increase in the number of reported COVID-19 cases in both staff and students," reads the letter signed by Sarah Kennedy, the principal of Emerald Ridge Elementary School in White City, about 20 kilometres east of Regina. "Our attendance data also shows an increase in students away due to illness or being sent home ill during the school day." 

The letter was distributed to parents on March 28.

It encouraged parents and their children to continue using rapid tests to help detect and reduce the spread of COVID-19, self-monitor for symptoms, reduce exposures and self-isolate if someone does test positive. 

A letter informing parents of the spread of COVID-19 in a school is a rarity during the most recent stage of the pandemic in Saskatchewan. 

There is no longer a mandatory requirement to report a confirmed COVID-19 case to a student's school. 

And that's a problem for everyone in the province's schools, says Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation.

"We've got kind of both hands tied behind our back in being able to detect and be proactive in preventing COVID," he said. 

'No real information out there'

Saskatchewan no longer has any public health orders for COVID-19, and the government continues to say it wants to treat the virus as any other communicable disease.

That means people are no longer required to self-isolate if they test positive, although it is still recommended by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. 

The Department of Education flexed its legal muscles to make sure Saskatchewan school divisions lifted their COVID-19 mandates. That meant no more mandatory masking. 

LISTEN| Sask. government tightens grip on school divisions, legally directs all to drop mandates

The lack of data, which some parents used as a guide to decide whether it was safe to send their child to school, means even teachers are being left in the dark, according to Maze. 

"They don't get information from their school divisions. They see lower attendance in some situations. They hear from colleagues that are sick or have tested positive. But there's no real information out there," he told CBC News. 

WATCH | Teachers feel vulnerable as COVID-19 data on infections disappears: 

A patchwork

The major school divisions in Regina and Saskatoon have a variety of policies governing COVID-19 reporting. 

Regina Public Schools and Regina Catholic Schools say they encourage reporting but maintain it is voluntary.

Saskatoon Public Schools doesn't expect families or staff to self-report as it's no longer a provincial requirement, the division said in a statement. 

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools say they don't record or track the data even if a positive case is reported to them. 

A spokesperson for the Prairie Valley School Division, which Emerald Ridge Elementary falls under, said it has no policy. 

However, the spokesperson added that the letter sent to families by Kennedy is a principal "wisely choosing to keep the community informed, based on information volunteered by parents." 

No changes coming

Education Minister Dustin Duncan and Health Minister Paul Merriman were not available for an on-camera interview. 

Instead, CBC News was provided with a statement from the Ministry of Health saying Saskatchewan would continue to track and monitor COVID-19. 

"COVID-19 surveillance will now align with reporting for other communicable diseases, and epidemiological information will be posted on a weekly basis. There is no consideration being given to changing the COVID reporting," the statement read. 

Maze says that as long as COVID is continuing to spread, he'd like the province to consider making masks mandatory in the classroom. 

He also wants school staff added to the list of people allowed to get PCR test for COVID-19. 

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