COVID-19: Keeping track of differing mask policies for rural Sask. school divisions

Peterborough school boards report absenteeism rates well above the average for January. File / Global News

Families across Saskatchewan have been gearing up for the upcoming school year over the last couple of weeks.

In that time, more school divisions have been releasing their masking plans for the year with back to school just around the corner and COVID-19 variants becoming more of a concern heading into the fall and winter months.

Some of the province’s rural school divisions have announced differing rules and guidelines on mask use within their schools.

Below is a summary of what four of those school divisions have decided when it comes to in-school masking.

Chinook School Division – southwest Saskatchewan

The Chinook School Division is recommending masks in certain scenarios and requiring them in others.

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In the school division’s return-to-school plan, masks are being recommended for all pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 students and staff in classrooms.

However, masks will be required for all students and staff in hallways, washrooms and common spaces when people from other classes are present.

“We’re trying to develop a plan that we think is appropriate for the circumstances up to today,” explained Mark Benesh, director of education for the Chinook School Division.

“I think the board was trying to put in practices and protocols they believe are safe for exactly this time, and we are ready to adjust based on the changing elements of COVID.”

In addition, masks will be required for all students and staff on school buses.

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No suggestion has been laid out for mask use among students for outdoor activities such as recess or outdoor gym classes, but physical distancing is still encouraged.

Visitors, including parents and caregivers, will also need to wear masks if they are at a Chinook School Division school.

The division added they will follow advice from the provincial government and Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) throughout the school year.

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North East School Division – northeast Saskatchewan

Schools within the North East School Division are directed to adopt a “mask-friendly approach” in all school settings, according to the division’s safe school plan.

All students, staff and visitors, whether they are vaccinated or not, are recommended to wear masks in common spaces including hallways, washrooms, lunchrooms, libraries and school buses.

The division said it’s appropriate for students to remove masks once they are seated in their classrooms.

No recommendation has been given for mask use during outdoor activities including outdoor gym sessions or recess.

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Holy Trinity Catholic School Division – Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Shaunavon

Holy Trinity, which includes Catholic schools in Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Shaunavon, will be requiring masks for students, staff and visitors in their elementary schools, unless individuals have a medical restriction.

According to the division, about 80 per cent of their elementary school students are not fully vaccinated, with the majority of their student body currently ineligible for a vaccine.

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“In consultation with our local medical health officers, we believe this is the most prudent step to maintain the general health of this vulnerable population and to minimize disruption to in-person learning,” said Holy Trinity Catholic Schools in its back-to-school plan.

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The division said its students will not be required to wear masks on the playground.

Holy Trinity high school students are strongly encouraged to wear masks at all times. Staff and visitors to their schools will be required to wear a mask at all times.

Both students and staff must wear a mask while riding the bus.

Prairie South School Division – southern Saskatchewan

Prairie South is taking a different approach by strongly recommending masks within their schools and on buses.

This includes common areas such as hallways, washrooms, lunchrooms and libraries.

The direction includes children under 12 and unvaccinated students and staff, as well as visitors.

The division added that disposable masks will be available in all Prairie South schools and facilities.

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