‘We’re not really being protected’: Sask. families worried over back-to-school pandemic plan

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WATCH: Some teachers, parents and students are concerned the pandemic back-to-school plan doesn't go far enough to protect people.

When 23-month-old Lucy Baiton last caught a cold, it morphed into pneumonia and the little girl’s heart stopped beating.

Lucy has Down syndrome and, with narrow nasal passages and airways, is especially susceptible to complications with respiratory illnesses.

“We’ve been through so much with this little one already that I really can’t take the chance of something more happening to her,” her mother Leah Baiton said.

With a new school year looming amid the coronavirus pandemic, Baiton is scared.

“I want to go back to school. I love my job. I miss my students. I love interacting with them. But how do I do that and still keep her safe? I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do,” said Baiton, a science teacher at Archbishop M.C. O’Neill Catholic High School in Regina.

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The Saskatchewan government released its safe school guidelines on Tuesday, but she said they don’t go nearly far enough for her to feel confident in returning.

The guidelines, under which masks aren’t mandatory and class sizes aren’t smaller, leave the details to the province’s 27 school divisions.

While the government says appropriate supports need to be established for immunocompromised students or students with immunocompromised family members, there is nothing outlining steps for immunocompromised staff or staff with immunocompromised family members.

‘We’re not really being protected’

Baiton is not the only one with concerns.

Grade 7 student Annabel Bast doesn’t feel comfortable with the plan, either. Instead of starting off the school year at St. Angela Merici Elementary School, she’ll be at home.

The government has emphasized normalcy as central to the back-to-school plan, and while Bast said she appreciates that, “it’s not normal and I think that we can’t really be shielded from that.

“I’m concerned for the health of my classmates and that we’re not really being protected,” Bast said.

She has the support of her mother, Shannon Orel-Bast, who said there were about 30 students in her daughter’s class last year.

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If physical distancing isn’t possible, which it wouldn’t be in a class so large, Orel-Bast and her daughter both said they believe everyone should wear masks or students should be grouped into cohorts.

“They’re going to take action after the fact of people getting sick,” Bast said. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

Running out of time

Saskatoon-based family physician Dr. Carla Holinaty, a mother of two young school-age children, said her family is still assessing their comfort level with the plan and wondering if there are any other viable options with September just weeks away.

“Trying to figure out how we can try to manage something else is probably going to take some work,” she said.

“I had really held out hope that our government was going to have taken the time that it had and the benefit of seeing all of the other provinces’ plans and was going to come up with something that would at least be reasonable.”

Holinaty said her children, ages six and eight, have been wearing masks when they go out, and that when she told them masks weren’t part of the back-to-school plan, they were confused.

“My daughter was pretty surprised to hear they didn’t have to wear masks and asked if she could still wear one anyway,” she said.

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“It’s her understanding that if you’re inside around lots of people, you should wear a mask because that’s what keeps everyone safe.

“Kids aren’t dumb. They know that coronavirus is still here. They know that the rules for anywhere besides their schools are still going to be different.”

Searching for solutions

As for Baiton, she’s working with Regina Catholic Schools to come up with a solution that won’t put her daughter in jeopardy.

“I’m really fortunate that my school admin and my school division have been great,” Baiton said.

“But they’re working with the plan the government laid out and there’s only so much they can do.”

Earlier in the summer, she wrote to Premier Scott Moe and Education Minister Gordon Wyant, outlining her situation and fears if strict measures weren’t put in place.

She said she shared it with her MLA after receiving a form-letter response and that her MLA told her they could talk further when more details were made available.

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

“I didn’t sleep last night, worried about this, trying to figure this out,” Baiton said. “If I were to get sick, she’ll get sick. I have to protect myself in order to protect her.

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“I want to go back, but I don’t know how to do that safely.”