What you need to know about the return to school in Sask.

Navigating back to school in a pandemic could be tough. Here's a breakdown of some of what parents should know.

Answers to some common questions about school during the pandemic

The majority of school divisions in Saskatchewan have made masks mandatory where physical distancing isn't possible. (Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

The Saskatchewan provincial government has released its guidelines for schools and school boards reopening during the pandemic, but each division is left to create its own specific plans. 

We have provided answers to some common questions below, with the caveat that parents should confirm local policies with their individual schools. 

CBC News wants to hear what questions you have about the back-to-school plans and the coronavirus. We'll do our best to get you answers. Please send us your questions (and any other COVID-related news tips and stories) to, or on Facebook or Twitter. This story will be updated regularly.

Will there be COVID-19 testing at schools?

The provincial government said it is working to introduce targeted testing across school divisions and priority testing for teachers and school staff. 

The province said students will have the option of participating in "voluntary testing" if they have parental consent. This means in-school public health visits for routine vaccinations will include a COVID-19 test. The schools where voluntary testing will be offered will be based on population density and grade levels. 

The province said schools will be prioritized if there is an increase of cases in a community. 

What happens if a student is showing symptoms?

The provincial government said all schools must have a designated "isolation room" where any student with symptoms can go until a parent picks them up. 

Anyone in the room or around the student must wear masks and gloves. The school must also call public health.

The province said schools are going to keep track of where individual students sit to know who was around the symptomatic student. 

What happens if a student tests positive?

The Saskatchewan Health Authority will notify a school division if there's a confirmed case of COVID-19 linked to a school. 

The Saskatoon Public School division said it will not be sharing names or health information of anyone who tests positive, because of privacy laws. Instead, the division said the school will work with public health officials on communicating next steps and contact tracing. 

The division said the school will also be thoroughly cleaned, and that students and staff should self-monitor for any symptoms. 

What happens if there's an outbreak at a school?

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said a school that has an outbreak wouldn't necessarily have to shut down. 

Shahab said alternatives to shutting down schools would include an emphasis on washing hands, using hand sanitizers or using personal protective equipment. 

Based on data from other jurisdictions, the risks of COVID-19 in schools are low and the symptoms are mild if the disease is present, Shahab said.

Who will sanitize school equipment, and how often? 

It depends the school division.

The Regina Public School Division's plan says maintenance staff will disinfect all washrooms twice a day and at the end of the day, and commonly-touched spaces will be disinfected regularly. 

The division said it will communicate that outdoor play structures are not sanitized and instead will promote hand hygiene after playing. 

How will bus rides work?

Parents are asked to drive their children when possible, but buses will still be running with a seating plan. 

"We're going to be putting in a plan so that we will be able to do contact tracing for kids who are on buses," Education Minister Gordon Wyant said on July 18. "But at the present time, there is no plan to restrict the number of children that are on a bus."

Will class sizes stay the same? 

Provincially there are no plans to reduce class sizes. Physical distancing is recommended in the classroom. 

What's the plan for physical distancing?

Teachers are being asked to rearrange their classrooms with physical distancing in mind and put students into cohorts that will be in the same area together for the entire year. 

Non-medical masks are recommended when physical distancing is not possible. The majority of school divisions have made masks mandatory for places like hallways where distancing isn't possible. 

Will masks be mandatory? 

Masks are not mandatory across the province, but the majority of school divisions are mandating them when physical distancing is not possible. 

What is a cohort and how will they work?

The province recommends keeping students in cohorts — or smaller groupings that stay together across different activities — in hopes of reducing transmission by limiting who is in close contact with each other. 

Elementary schools are recommended to keep their entire classroom as a cohort or to separate students into small groupings. In high schools, cohorts are going to be different depending on the school district. 

Will school entry times be staggered? 

Schools across the province will determine their own protocols. The province said staggering recesses and lunches is recommended to promote physical distancing. 

Some schools will be starting the year off staggered. The Regina Catholic School Division is having families with last names beginning with A to K go to school on Sept. 8 and 10. Families with last names beginning with L to Z will go on Sept. 9 and 11. Full capacity school will begin on September 14. 

How will distancing be maintained at lunchtime and recess?

Individual school divisions will decide how their schools will run recesses and lunches.

The province recommends physical distancing be maintained or students stay in their classroom cohorts for lunch. It also recommends staggered lunch and recess times. 

Saskatoon Public Schools will have playgrounds divided into grade-specific areas to keep classrooms distanced and will reduce equipment that would be used by multiple students. 

What options do parents have if they don't want to send their students back?

Each school division is working to have online learning. There are also private online learning schools. 

Flex Ed has been doing online learning since 2005 and said it's seeing a flood of new enrolments due to COVID-19. The Regina Public School Division said it will deliver the full curriculum through remote delivery.

The Saskatoon Public School Division is asking people to enrol for the full year in online learning if they don't want to attend school in person, as multiple transitions could affect a students success. 

However, the division said it will have multiple re-entry points if someone is online and wants to move back into in-person learning. It suggests returning during a natural entry point such as the end of a reporting period in elementary. 

Will extracurricular activities, like sports or band practice, still be available?

Extracurricular activities will depend on the school division. The Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate has announced it is cancelling all fall sports, including cross-country, football, soccer and volleyball. 

Dr. Shahab's office cautions against choir and band, but some schools are planning on proceeding with modified versions. 

The Regina Catholic School Division said it will continue high school choral and vocal jazz. The province says choral practices must have everyone wearing a mask and standing four metres apart from others, and conductors must wear face shields.

Band members must clean their instruments and can't share them with others. 

How will EAL programming work? 

It will depend on the school division. The Regina Catholic School Division is having EAL teachers do a pull-out support program for the first six weeks. 

This means teachers will pull students out of class within their classroom cohorts and teach them in a large space, or a small space with only a few students. The school division will re-evaluate the safety recommendations after six weeks. 


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