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Masks won’t be mandatory as Saskatchewan releases its Safe Schools Plan

The Saskatchewan government released its Safe Schools Plan for students, teachers and staff returning to school in the fall.
The Saskatchewan government released its Safe Schools Plan for students, teachers and staff returning to school in the fall. Dave Parsons / Global News

The Saskatchewan government is planning for students, teachers and staff to return to school in the fall in what it’s calling as close to normal conditions as possible.

On Tuesday, the province released its plan outlining additional health measures and precautions that will be in place in order to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Come fall, 27 school divisions will see students return to the classroom.

According to its plan, each division will focus on eight areas of safety including attendance, transportation and supports.

Read more: Saskatchewan NDP releases plan to address teachers’, parents’ back-to-school woes

The province chose not to make masks mandatory despite other provinces choosing to do so. Alberta, who released its back-to-school plan on Tuesday, is making masks mandatory for all staff and Grade 4 to 12 students.

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“We think this is the best practice for Saskatchewan at least in the beginning, leaving the door open of course for the chief medical health officer to recommend to us otherwise,” said Gordon Wyant, Saskatchewan’s education minister.

“I know Dr. [Saqib] Shahab has been in contact with his colleagues across the country around this and there are differences with respect to plans in every jurisdiction in this country.
Coronavirus: Sask. government releases its Safe Schools Plan for fall return
Coronavirus: Sask. government releases its Safe Schools Plan for fall return

“While there are lots of similarities, there are some differences and Saskatchewan has chosen in this particular instance, in Phase 1, as we open up schools in the most normal way possible that masks won’t be mandatory in our schools.”

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Shabab said the decision was based on a number of factors including the importance of providing kids a sense of normalcy.

Read more: Saskatchewan parents start pandemic back-to-school shopping

“Kids will have been out of school for five-and-half months by the time they return,” Shahab said.

“Many experts have said you need to provide a normal and reassuring environment when school starts, especially for younger children.”

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation said it would like to see masks mandatory when school starts in the fall rather than down the road if an outbreak occurs.

“We all want to return to the classroom, but it must be done safely,” said Patrick Maze, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president.

“Considering masks is a step in the right direction. Teachers and parents are questioning whether this is enough and why there are inconsistencies between the broader public health measures and what is required in schools.”

When it comes to attendance, parents are being asked to monitor their children for any signs or symptoms of illness.

There will also be a dedicated quarantine area in every school where those exhibiting symptoms will isolate until they can be safely picked up by a parent or caregiver.

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When possible, parents are encouraged to transport their own children to and from school.

For those who have to ride the bus, there will be assigned seating, with students who live in the same household seated together.

Read more: Saskatchewan schools set to resume in-class learning this fall, guidelines to be released

School buses and other vehicles used to transport students are required to be cleaned and sanitized between each run.

At school there will be dedicated entrances and exits, staggered recess and lunch and directional signage and floor markings to help control the flow of students and staff in common areas.

Sanitizer will be available wherever possible, with school facilities and all frequently-touched surfaces and objects cleaned consistently.

In the classrooms, physical contact will be limited, including hugs and handholding.

There will be clear protocols for bringing school materials such as backpacks and supplies in and out of the school.

Classrooms will also be reconfigured to minimize contact. Using outdoor spaces for learning is encouraged whenever possible.

Read more: It’s official: Saskatchewan schools are closed through September due to coronavirus

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For those students with intensive needs, are immunocompromised or medically fragile, the province says plans will be in place to provide support within a safe and secure environment.

Although the document does not go into specifics, it does say this may include an in-school setting or other appropriate space.

“Somehow we have managed, the minister has managed to come up with the worst plan in Canada,” said Carla Beck, Saskatchewan NDP education critic.

“Despite all the extra time and the ability to learn from other provinces. I am upset. I’m angry, and I won’t accept this as a plan for schools reopening in the fall.

“Not one more dollar put into the education budget, no reduction in class sizes, no additional funds for more staff or cleaning staff, no masking provisions, no funding for additional busing. I expected better than this.”

Teachers ‘very concerned’ for school return amid COVID-19: STF
Teachers ‘very concerned’ for school return amid COVID-19: STF

There will also be alternative learning opportunities in place for students who are unable to attend school for medical reasons.

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Read more: Overcrowding issue facing Regina Public Schools

As far as extra-curricular activities such as indoor sports are concerned, the province says they will be allowed in the second part of Phase 4 of the province’s reopening plan.

Also within its plan, the province says participation will be dependent on the most current guidelines provided by the chief medical officer.

Three other alternatives were also identified if cases continue to climb, including mask usage, reducing school capacity or remote learning.

“At the present time, school will return  as normal as possible, but that could possibly change. This is an evolving situation,” Wyant said.

“I mentioned that on a couple of occasions before, but this can all change depending on community transmission and the number of cases.”

Shahab said the province hasn’t seen any outbreaks in daycares to date and pointed to research on the transmission rate among kids under 10 years old being lower than older kids and adults.

The full plan can be found here.

Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan to ensure safe environment for students and staff as schools reopen
Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan to ensure safe environment for students and staff as schools reopen