Sask. students set to return to classrooms in fall, details still unclear

Saskatchewan students from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 will return to in-classroom learning for the upcoming school year, the province announced Tuesday.

NDP wants COVID-19 contingency funds set aside

Saskatchewan schoolchildren will be back in the province this fall, the province announced Tuesday. (Kevin Mulcahy/Shutterstock )

Saskatchewan announced Tuesday that students from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 will return to in-classroom learning for the upcoming school year.

"In-class learning is the best way for children to gain their education, notwithstanding the fact we've had some success with online learning, and other delivery models over the last number of months," said Education Minister Gordon Wyant. 

Schools in the province were closed indefinitely on March 20, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government previously said it was weighing three options for the fall: hold a regular school year, have fully-online learning for all students or a hybrid of the two.

The school year could start as early as Sept. 1, depending on the division's calendar, according to a government news release.

Wyant said guidelines, which are still being developed, could include designated exit and entrances in schools, as well as shifting schedules to accommodate and ensure adequate distancing protocols in schools and facilities.

The Ministry of Education will distribute public health guidelines, developed with the province's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, as early as next week.

Shahab said the province has been looking to other places in the world where schools are reopening, and no large-scale outbreak in a school setting has been observed anywhere.

"That supports the observation that children don't really get that sick with COVID for the most part and don't transmit that well, either. So, COVID behaves very differently in children than coughs and colds, or influenza," Shahab said.

NDP calls for contingency funds

The Saskatchewan NDP called on the provincial government Tuesday to ensure funds are available for school boards if extra costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic arise once in-class learning resumes.

Education critic Carla Beck, MLA for Regina Lakeview, said she has heard from school boards currently formulating their budgets who have told her some proposed budget increases are less than one per cent.

"The reason that we have an extra amount of concern about that is because, before the pandemic, we know that classrooms were underfunded and had been for many years," Beck said Tuesday.

"We've seen class sizes increase and we have seen resources — both in terms of personnel and supplies — decrease because of budget decisions that boards were forced to make."

NDP education critic Carla Beck wants the Saskatchewan government to ensure there are funds available for school boards to access if they require additional funds beyond their initial budget because of COVID-19. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Beck said there are at least 70 schools in Saskatchewan at 100 per cent capacity or greater. With schools set to welcome students back in the new school year, large class sizes and a lack of resources will have to be addressed with distancing guidelines, she said.

Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Patrick Maze said teachers agree that it is a good thing that both educators and students will be able to get back into the classrooms, but teachers want to ensure that schools are clean, sanitized and supplied with personal protective equipment. 

"Once we know that divisions are equipped with personal protective equipment and that some social distancing can be practised in schools, then we'll feel a lot better about," said Maze.

"We want to make sure that this isn't an area that school divisions are forced to skimp on," he said. "When it comes to teacher safety and student safety, that's something that needs to be held as a priority." 

Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, said student safety and teacher safety need to be ensured and that includes clean, sanitized schools and adequate PPE. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

The province said its education response planning team — which includes government officials and representatives from the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, school divisions and the business community — will be providing direction on operational matters.

B.C. reopened schools voluntarily on June 1. Manitoba decided to partially reopen schools on June 1 for one-on-one or small group instruction, assessments and limited programming.

Both the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan have announced they plan to primarily offer remote learning this fall.

With files from Adam Hunter and Emily Pasiuk


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