Saskatchewan

Sask. gov't didn't consult school boards association on union's request to delay classes, president says

The president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association says the association was not consulted by the government on a request from the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation to delay the return to in-person classes this week — despite the education minister saying otherwise.

Saskatchewan only province forging ahead with in-person learning

Shawn Davidson, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, says the association was not consulted on the government’s return to school plan. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

The president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association says the association was not consulted by the government on a request from the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation to delay the return to in-person classes this week — despite the education minister saying otherwise.

The government announced earlier this week that in-class learning would continue in Saskatchewan amid surging COVID-19 cases.

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) had called for the province to delay classes by two days in order to prepare for the Omicron variant.

During a news conference Wednesday, Education Minister Dustin Duncan said the province consulted with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA), which represents all 27 divisions, on that request.

"We have worked very closely with our school divisions and the SSBA and there was, from that group, there was certainly no interest that was expressed to extend the holiday break," Duncan said.

However, SSBA president Shawn Davidson said he was not informed that a school delay was on the table.

"There was never any indication given to us from the government that they were contemplating responding to that request [to delay classes]," he said.

"So for divisions, we moved ahead [with] our start up plan, as what our calendars suggested, and we were not given any directive otherwise. So that's essentially how we functioned."

Davidson said the SSBA wasn't lobbying to delay schools and wants them to remain open, but would like to see communication to be bolstered between school officials and the Ministry of Education by reinstating the Education Response Planning Team.

The team — disbanded in July — saw officials from the education and health ministries, SSBA, STF and other education sector partners regularly meet to work through the pandemic response in schools.

"We would really like to see those meetings reconvened," Davidson said.

"It was a really great table for health to share their thoughts with us and their recommendations, and then for us to provide some feedback on how that might look in the education sector. And it was a very important table, and we would certainly like to see that type of consultation continue going forward."

Capacity challenges in school-based contact tracing

Davidson said school divisions are concerned about taking on school-based contact tracing, as directed by the government.

On Wednesday, the province released guidelines for parents and schools to follow in the event of COVID-19 transmission, asking school staff and parents to report any positive test results to the school, whether it's with a PCR test or a rapid test.

The province said schools will send a notification to parents if a child is considered a close contact.

"School divisions have neither the human resources nor necessarily the expertise to to really do all of that work," Davidson said. "We've been helping with it for quite some time now, but really we do have some capacity challenges there."

Sask. NDP releases its own 'safe schools strategy'

The Opposition NDP released its own proposal for a "safe schools strategy" on Thursday. It includes giving all students and staff N95 masks, hiring retired, substitute and casual school staff full-time during the fifth wave, and ensuring proper ventilation in every classroom. 

The Saskatchewan government said it has spent more than $150 million throughout the pandemic to keep students and staff safe. It did not announce new funding in response to the Omicron wave. 

A breakdown of that money provided to CBC by the province says that by the end of this school year, school divisions and independent schools will have spent:

  • $6.1 million on air purification systems.

  • $8.5 million on PPE (including $5.1 million purchased and distributed by the Government of Saskatchewan).

  • $22.2 million on sanitation.

  • $43.5 million on remote learning.

  • $11.1 million on equipment and IT.

  • $21.5 million on mental health and additional supports for students as a result of the pandemic.

  • $7.5 million on staff-related costs.

  • $34.5 million in one-time initiatives such as renewal of bus fleets and maintenance repair of buildings.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yasmine Ghania is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan, currently based in Saskatoon.

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