NDP calls for direction on class sizes, masks as Saskatchewan prepares for back to school

Masks recommended in high-traffic areas for all Grade 4-12 students: Sask. government
WATCH: The Saskatchewan government has revised its back-to-school guidelines for school divisions that want to raise their safety measures.

With only a few weeks before kids head back to school, the NDP is renewing calls for more direction on how to keep teachers and students safe amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

At a virtual press conference Wednesday, the opposition’s education critic Carla Beck said the party wants to see class sizes addressed, more direction on wearing masks, and calling for the Human Services Committee to address the current Safe Schools Plan.

She says the province is pushing decisions onto school board divisions and that it’s frustrating these things have not been decided yet. Some school divisions have made masks mandatory.

Read more: Some Saskatchewan school divisions make masks mandatory

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“We don’t think it is responsible or fair that the minister keeps downloading the responsibility for these decisions onto school boards without clarity and certainly not without the corresponding resources,” she said.

Resources would include more staff to accommodate for cohorting and smaller class sizes, Beck said.

She raised concerns about pushing to reopen schools in September before prioritizing safety of students and staff.

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When asked whether she believes the start date should be delayed, Beck said that depends on what, if anything, changes in the next couple weeks.

“If we are still anticipating putting the same number of children on buses, not adding extra buses, if we’re still looking at having (regular) class sizes … then I would have very, very serious concerns about our ability to ensure that that is a safe learning environment,” she said.

In an email to Global News, the Ministry of Education said the province’s chief medical health officer has directed some measures be included in all division plans.

Those include plans for teacher and class cohorting, front-facing instruction for classes, and staggered start times, breaks and end times.

Read more: Masks recommended in high-traffic areas for all Grade 4-12 students: Saskatchewan government

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“In high school settings where cohorting is more complex, school divisions will be encouraged to find creative solutions to move students in cohorts where possible,” wrote spokesperson Chris Hodges.

The email noted school divisions saw $40 million in savings between March and June 2020, and said those savings “can be redirected to one-time expenditures or incremental costs related to the pandemic.”

School divisions may also be able to access some of the province’s $200 million contingency fund, he wrote.

“School division boards of education are responsible for determining class configurations in the schools in their jurisdiction,” he said.

“Boards of education are best positioned to make operational decisions that respond to local need.”

Beck said the province should be establishing things like class sizes, not the school boards.

Read more: Coronavirus: Cowessess First Nation releases back-to-school plan

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

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.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

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