Saskatchewan

'It's producing a lot of anxiety': Sask. parents voice concerns over province's back-to-school plan

Saskatchewan is sending K-12 students back to school next month. Now, many Regina parents are taking to social media to voice their concerns over what they call a lack of detail in the provincial government's back-to-school plan.

Swarms of Sask. parents take to social media to call for more detailed plan

An online petition calls for a new Saskatchewan back-to-school plan that includes more money, more detailed protocols, and more protection for students and those working inside schools. (Weedezign/Shutterstock)

Saskatchewan is sending K-12 students back to school next month. Now, many Regina parents are taking to social media to voice their concerns over what they call a lack of detail in the provincial government's back-to-school plan. 

Saskatchewan's plan — which was released on Tuesday — emphasizes "normalcy," with some extra health precautions. The government has not made masks mandatory for teachers or students, and class sizes won't be reduced. The plan does not call for on-site testing or screening.

Regina parent Cecilia Prokop says the plan has given her anxiety about how safe schools will be in September. 

"I was really disappointed. This to me doesn't sound any different than what we were hearing back in May and June. And we were disappointed then as well," said Prokop.

"I just felt that this plan is way too vague — way too reactionary, rather than preventative."

Prokop says her family has been waiting for clear direction and mandates from the provincial government, especially on what to do if a student or teacher gets sick. 

"Where is the support for that student's parent to miss two weeks of work?"

Prokop is not alone. A petition launched by Saskatchewan parents on the website change.org pushing for a better plan had more than 4,000 signatures as of Wednesday evening.

The petition calls for a new plan that includes more money, more detailed protocols, and more protection for students and those working inside schools.

Students in Saskatchewan will not be mandated to wear masks once back in school. (LM Otero/The Associated Press)

Alec Couros, an educational technology and media professor at the University of Regina, says he is concerned about sending his four children to school because he feels there hasn't been enough attention paid to their safety.

"It's really producing a lot of anxiety.... Ultimately these kids are going to be confined in small spaces in very crowded rooms. They're going to leave and very likely infect those around them when they go home," Couros said. 

"I understand ultimately that many people will make the economic argument that we have to get back to business, but this doesn't protect that either. And I think people see that … this will put us in a very tough situation, where we'll be essentially closing the economy in a very short span of time."

Unanswered questions

Carla Beck, the Saskatchewan NDP​​​​​​'s education critic, says more should have been included in the plan, since Saskatchewan was the last province to release its details.

"Somehow the minister has managed to come up with the worst plan in Canada, despite all of the extra time and the ability to learn from the plans of other provinces," the Opposition MLA said.

Among her criticisms was the lack of triggers for when to move from one level of the province's plan to another. 

Trevor Aikman of Regina has the same concerns as Beck. Aikman, who has an 11-year-old son, is among the parents voicing concerns about the province's back-to-school plan on Twitter. 

"I want to know that when they walk in the door, their temperature is being taken," said Aikman. 

"Where are we going to find the people to take their temperature? Well, that's where the government comes in to back up the schools to make sure they have what is needed."

Aikman says he wants to know what the province's plan is if students or teachers test positive for COVID-19.

"Do you quarantine classrooms? Do you quarantine the whole school?"

In response to questions about criticism of the plan, Education Minister Gord Wyant says that when creating it, the province evaluated best practices and emerging research, and reviewed local plans that have been prepared by school divisions. He encourages parents to look to those.

"The work that is being done by school divisions in developing their unique operational plans for children going back to school is exceptional work," said Wyant.

Class sizes 

Saskatoon mother Jen Budney, whose children are going into grades 3 and 6 this fall, says she is very concerned about sending her children back to school.

"I'm particularly distressed that there's been no money put into making this safer for our children. The class sizes are a huge problem," said Budney. 

Beau Sutton of Saskatoon has children going into grades 4 and 8. He says mandatory masking and smaller class sizes were the "bare minimum" he expected to see in the plan. 

"It would not be that hard to do a cohort system where the kids are in half-size classes Monday [and] Wednesday ... and Tuesday, Thursday, with alternating Fridays," Sutton said. 

He says that without extra provincial funding, teachers will have their plates too full with their regular duties on top of maintaining physical distancing and a clean environment in the classroom. 

Sutton's youngest son has autism.

"You have him, plus kids with ADHD, and other kids with special needs in the classroom, and it's unrealistic to expect that of the teachers. They're expecting them to be supermen and they're not," he said.

"They're men and women just like us."

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