Saskatchewan

Sask. schools expected to toe government line, told to make masks optional

The Saskatchewan government says it expects school divisions across the province to lift all of their COVID-19 mandates — such as the masking and proof-of-vaccination or negative test requirements — as the corresponding public health orders lift over the next few weeks.

Divisions required to remove all mandates as public health orders lift

The Saskatchewan government says it expects school divisions across the province to lift all of their COVID-19 mandates — such as the masking and proof-of-vaccination or negative test requirements — as the corresponding public health orders lift over the next few weeks. (James Arthur Gekiere/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images)

As the province's COVID-19 public health orders lift over the next month, Saskatchewan schools are expected to follow suit.

"The Government of Saskatchewan expects school divisions to remove their requirements for mandatory vaccination/rapid testing and mask mandates when the Public Health Orders are rescinded," the Ministry of Education wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon.

"Schools may feel free to encourage mask use while respecting individual choices regarding masks based on one's own risk assessment."

According to the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF), the new directions from the province are being met with mixed reviews from educators.

"Some will look at it as, taking the measures off will make life a little bit easier in schools — but, of course, that has to be balanced with the concerns for everyone's safety," said STF president Patrick Maze.

The Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) said divisions will continue to consult with their local medical health officers as they have throughout the pandemic, including when some schools decided to implement their own masking mandates ahead of the province's public health order. Should local health advice conflict with the province's, divisions will have to seek clarity.

"We're still waiting for some documentation around actually specific directives that are associated with this," said Shawn Davidson, SSBA president, noting directors of education began meeting with ministry officials earlier this week.

Davidson said the conversation between divisions and the province has shifted to making sure schools are "mask friendly environments" that will accept people regardless of whether they choose to wear a face covering.

LISTEN | End of public health restrictions a source of stress for Regina teacher

With Premier Scott Moe signaling public health restrictions will soon come to an end, one Regina teacher says it's adding stress to a year that's already been difficult for staff and students.

During a news conference on Tuesday, the province's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said he plans to continue to discuss the latest COVID-19 situation in Saskatchewan with local medical health officers and school boards. 

At last report, Shahab said that the Omicron wave appears to have made its way through most communities across the province, which should "lend confidence" to the dropping of the mask mandate in schools.

Students' reaction mixed

Regina Grade 11 student Abraham Tarka, who recently contracted COVID-19, said he'll continue to wear his mask at school, even if it's not mandatory.

"I don't want to get it again and miss out on school," the 16-year-old said. "If we want to stop the spread of COVID and other diseases, we've got to wear our masks."

Chelsea Iroh, a Regina Grade 11 student, says she plans to mostly wear a mask even after it’s not required of her, but will assess the situation on a day-to-day basis. (Matt Duguid/CBC News)

Meanwhile, fellow Grade 11 student Chelsea Iroh is excited to have more freedom of choice.

"I'll definitely still wear a mask, but if I don't feel like it or I don't want to, it's nice to know I don't have to," she said.

Grade 12 student Aleksandar Racic said he's still mindful of the spread of the virus — and still plans to wear his mask for the first few weeks after he's no longer required to — but that he's hopeful the change will help his and his classmates' mental health down the line.

"It'll be good to get back to normal," he said, "but we're still in the Omicron part of the pandemic, so we need to be careful."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessie Anton

Journalist

Jessie Anton is a Regina-based journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. She began sharing stories from across the province on television, radio and online in 2016, after getting her start in the rural weekly newspaper world. Email her at jessie.anton@cbc.ca.

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