The Saskatchewan government said Prekindergarten to Grade 12 students in the province will resume in-classroom learning for the 2020-21 school year.
Deputy Premier and Education Minister Gordon Wyant made the announcement on Tuesday. Schools in the province have been closed since March 20.
“Reopening schools is a significant milestone for our province, and an important step for families to get back to a new-normal,” Wyant said.
“Thank you to the teachers and staff for the tremendous job they have done connecting with their students while in-class learning has been suspended.”
With input from the Education Response Planning Team, the Ministry of Education will provide public health guidelines currently being developed in concert with Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.
“Maintaining physical distancing is less practical with young children. Our focus is on reducing risk through minimizing physical contact and putting in place protection, not only for students, but caregivers and staff,” Wyant said.
While nothing is finalized, Wyant did hint at a few safety measures being discussed.
“As the chief medical health officer kind of reviews what the guidelines are, we can talk about things like separate entrances to the school for instance, whether there is staggered classrooms, whether there is going to be some rescheduling,” Wyant said.
“These are all things we will give due consideration to. This really all depends what the state of affairs is when school returns in September. If the ongoing risk is significantly minimized than things will be a little different than if the risk factors are higher.”
Those guidelines will be made available to school divisions as early as next week, ensuring the safety of students, staff and caregivers.
The Education Response Planning Team includes representation from the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and Saskatchewan School Boards Association.
“I think it’s a good move to go back to some sort of a new-normal education program for students. Emergency-remote online teaching is difficult,” said Patrick Maze, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president.
“It’s been stressful for teachers. Some students have opted in and some students have opted out. We look forward to getting back to normal where marks matter, where attendance matters.”
Planning is subject to change if there becomes an “elevated transmission risk.”
With schools across Manitoba reopening their doors in a limited capacity as of June 1, Wyant said the government is keeping a close eye on what other provinces are doing.
“We know there will be many questions from school boards, teachers, parents and students as we prepare for a fall return. This is why we are communicating today and why we will be releasing guidelines as early as next week,” Wyant said.
The school year is set to begin Sept. 1, based on local school division calendars.
Earlier in June, both Regina Catholic School Division and Prairie Valley School Division estimated an 80-per cent participation rate by students since closing.
The two school divisions said teachers will be available to students until June 26.
On Monday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe encouraged people to work with their high schools, and within public health recommendations, to find creative and innovative ways to celebrate Grade 12 students’ graduations.
Phase 3, currently underway as of Monday, allows mass gatherings of 15 people in indoor spaces and 30 people outdoors.
-With files from David Giles, Kayleen Sawatzky and Thomas Piller
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