Premier Moe pledges additional $40 million for safe return to schools following Labour Day

In a post on his Twitter account, Premier Scott Moe says the government will be pledging an additional $40 million to ensure a safe return to schools in September.

On-site voluntary testing at schools also available for teachers, students

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe talks to reporters after the province released its budget at Saskatchewan's Legislative Building in Regina, Monday, June 15, 2020. On Saturday, Moe said the Government of Saskatchewan is set to provide an additional $40 million for the province's safe return to school on Sept. 8. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

The Government of Saskatchewan is set to inject millions of dollars into the province's education sector after parents and doctors raised concerns about the province's back-to-school plan, released earlier this month.

On Saturday afternoon, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced on Twitter the province will be investing an additional $40 million to ensure "more resources are available for safe classrooms." 

"Over the past few weeks our government has been listening to many parents and teachers concerns about our students returning to school while we are still managing our way through the COVID-19 pandemic," said Moe in an video posted online. 

"As a father, I know what it means to want to take every step possible to protect my kids," he said. "As a uncle, I know my nieces and nephews are excited to get back to school, but both them and their parents have questions about what it's going to look like." 

In the video, Moe says his government has heard the concerns, and said on Monday he'll be joined by the province's Chief Medical Health officer to announce further changes to the back-to-school plan. 

The new measures will provide "more information, more time, more testing capacity and more resources to ensure a safe return to school for all Saskatchewan students," Moe said. Specifics on how the $40 million will be allocated will be detailed then too.

Moe said more information will be provided to parents, with school divisions providing details on specific school plans on or before August 26 for safe operation. 

The Government of Saskatchewan is also pushing back the start date for schools from Sept. 1 to Sept. 8 — the Tuesday following Labour Day — to ensure teachers and schools have more time to prepare.

"This is a few days later than when students would normally return to class, but it will provide teachers and school staff a few additional days to prepare their classrooms and the common areas for a safe return." 

COVID-19 testing capacity for the province will also jump to 3,000 tests a day, with that number jumping again to 4,000 a day by early September to ensure there is adequate capacity. 

The Government of Saskatchewan is also introducing a COVID-19 testing plan specifically for schools that will see voluntary testing available in schools for both students and staff. 

"Over the past few months, together, we have reopened our economy, our healthcare services and many other activities in communities across the province," said Moe. "We have reopened all of these things safely, while still controlling the spread of COVID-19. And I know that, by working together, we can reopen our schools safely as well." 

Sask. Teachers Federation questions where figure, timeframe came from

President of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, Patrick Maze, said it's frustrating to see these plans announced on social media as he feels there hasn't been proper consultation between the government and those on the frontline of the sector.

"It still seems very scrambly," he said. "It seems like it's not really well thought out and it seems like there hasn't been proper consultation done again, because who is to say that $40 million is the right number." 

Maze said while the funding announcement "seems like a step in the right direction" with so few details and such limited consultation, he has questions about how the level of funding was determined and whether or not school divisions and teachers had a say in the delay of school's start. 

"While, I think, there seems to be a general agreement among all people in the education sector that it was going to be very difficult to be organized and ready to go for when students came in early September," he said. "Who is to say that delaying it — such as Scott Moe has decided — is actually enough." 

Earlier in August, Saskatchewan's Education Minister Gordon Wyant said he disagrees with those who are saying the plan does not put children as the priority. He told reporters he felt the plan was a good plan, noting it was constructed with guidance from the province's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. 

Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Patrick Maze says he has concerns about a lack of consultation by government when it comes to making changes to its back-to-school plan. (Alexis Lalament/CBC News)

Maze said there was no doubt that the government is unprepared for the reopening of schools, as from his perspective, the government misjudged the scope of bringing 27 school divisions back online during a pandemic. 

"It's a massive undertaking and we've been saying for months now that we need to be ready to go and that it's going to take a lot of work," he said. "It just seemed sort of piecemealed together, small announcement after small announcement, and suggestion and recommendation, but no real firm plans."

Maze said the fact the province is now pushing the reopening plan back is recognition "they didn't get it right," noting the province should have consulted with school boards and teachers to determine whether or not that is enough time.

 He said he's glad the premier is listening to concerns from parents and teachers, but said the concerns were impossible to ignore, as he's been receiving hundreds of messages from concerned teachers and families.

NDP says announcement may create further confusion frustration around planning

The opposition NDP also takes issue with the newly announced funding, as while the increase in cash is welcome, they say it will create more confusion for teachers and parents who have already been formulating plans — that may now have to be redrawn. 

"We are now just a mere two weeks away from when students were scheduled to be back in school," said Carla Beck, NDP education critic. "And I know that a lot of school divisions had put in a lot of hours at the last minute trying to make sense of the province's plan and put plans into place." 

NDP MLA Carla Beck says the government should have had its back-to-school plan ready a month ago, saying changes to the plan released on Saturday, just two weeks before school was set to resume, will create more confusion and frustration. (CBC)

Beck said the government's back-to-school plan has been one misstep after another, as she's heard from numerous people who are worried about sending their kids back to school in the fall. 

She noted while the additional $40 million is welcome, she feels the government should have had its back-to-school plan in place and ready earlier. 

"This is again, the minister and this government stepping up late and adding more confusion and chaos to what should have been a plan, solidly made at least a month ago," said Beck. 

She said the changes will be putting parents, teachers and schools under a time crunch to prepare new school plans to be reviewed by the Ministry of Education in late August. 

"I can only imagine what those school principals are going through right now," she said. "This is not something to be taken lightly, they just upended hours and hours of planning."

CBC Saskatchewan will be carrying Premier Scott Moe's announcement about the additional funding live on Monday.