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Public schools in Saskatchewan closing amid coronavirus concerns

Saskatchewan classes cancelled amid novel coronavirus pandemic
WATCH: Sask.'s provincial government is suspending class starting March 20 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Saskatchewan government is closing all public schools in the province as it deals with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

All pre-K-12 schools will close indefinitely starting March 20.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan activates its pandemic plan following new presumptive cases of COVID-19

Classes will wind down during the week and the government said parents who are able to keep their children at home should do so now, with no absence or grade impacts.

Premier Scott Moe noted families have been pushing for school closures amid the pandemic. He said the government’s decisions are informed by expert opinions from health officials.

“They’re not all going to be popular decisions, but we need to make what are the very best decisions on behalf of the families in this province,” he said.

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Officials said every student will receive a final grade based on their current grade and they will progress to their next grade level for the 2020-21 school year.

Every student eligible to graduate from Grade 12 will do so, they added.

READ MORE: Hospital visitor restrictions, casinos closing part of coronavirus prevention

The Ministry of Education said it, along with school divisions, will work with post-secondary institutions in the province to adapt entry requirements into programs.

The government said the delay in closing schools is to give parents with limited childcare options time to plan for class suspensions.

The closures also affect all daycares co-located with schools, but not licensed daycares outside of schools.

Further measures for licensed daycare facilities are under consideration, officials said, and will be implemented at a later date.

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They said they are also examining childcare options for people providing essential services.

The decision to shutter schools come after evidence of community transmission in Alberta, Moe said.

“We then had a discussion, ‘Is there an opportunity for us to limit our risk to that type of community transmission?’” he said.

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“We need to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the safety and the public health of our communities and our families. And it’s my true belief that’s where we’ve landed today.”

Government officials said there are several factors that are taken into consideration before closing schools.

The criteria include evidence of sustained transmission within the community, a rapid increase in local cases and transmission without a known link to travel or confirmed cases.

Officials said there continues to be no evidence that any of the criteria have been met and children remaining in school during the wind-down period face a low risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Teachers and other staff will work from home during the school closures, government officials said.

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Education officials said they will work with school divisions and teachers to implement a supplemental curriculum program through distance and alternative learning measures.

They added this will have no impact on final grades; instead officials said it will ensure students who want to continue to learn have the resources to do so.

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Patrick Maze said the class cancellations are unprecedented. He said the union supports the decision, as many teachers expressed anxiety about being exposed to the virus.

“It’s better now than waiting another week or two until it’s actually in our schools,” Maze said.

“It’s drastic measures, but that’s part of dealing with this type of pandemic, is you need to take drastic measures early in order to prevent the spread.”

The union has been taking job action over stalled contract talks — now moot without classes.

Student and teacher health comes first, Maze said, so negotiations with the provincial government will take a back seat for now.

To date, there has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan and seven presumptive cases.

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Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.