Saskatchewan government releases return-to-school plan for the fall

Saskatchewan’s 27 school divisions have plans in place for the safe return of students and staff to the classroom in September amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saskatchewan school divisions had their draft plans reviewed by Saskatchewan Education’s Response Planning Team (RPT), in order to ensure that they adhere to the Primary and Secondary Institution Guidelines, developed by the RPT in consultation with Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer.

One item that stands out in the province’s return-to-school plan is that masks will not mandatory and there will not be reduced class sizes.

There are four scenarios that could be activated by Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab depending on the status of the virus which are stated in the plan’s eighth component “Safe Alternatives.” Wyant said they are preparing for level one at this time, which is return to school as normal as possible with health guidelines in place, but they are planning in case they move to level two or beyond.

“Should there be a need, we are prepared to recommend mask usage for staff and students based on the direction of our chief medical health officer,” stated Wyant on Tuesday afternoon. “These masks are being purchased centrally by the ministry of education and distributed to school divisions.”

The provincial government expects to have six million masks ready for schools once they open this fall.

Wyant said they look at all of the other provinces to see what they are doing when making their decisions, not just for schools re-opening.

“We may well move to mandatory masks. But there are a number of other provinces that haven’t mandated masks,” explained Wyant. “To that extent, we will continue to look to see how things roll out in those various provinces to make some determinations as to whether or not we have to amend our policy.”

The Alberta government said grades four to 12 students and staff will be wearing masks in common areas and on buses, but not in the classroom.

Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia have also announced that masks will be mandatory in schools.

For Saskatchewan’s strategy, all school division plans have incorporated eight safe components that include:

1) Safe Attendance

To allow for all members of our school communities to attend classes safely, self-screening measures will be implemented, including:
o Parents and caregivers being asked to monitor their children for any signs or symptoms of illness. If any symptoms are present, the student is to remain home.
o For those who are unsure if they or a student present symptoms or may need to be tested for COVID-19, should refer to the Saskatchewan COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool.
o Dedicated quarantine area in every school where individuals exhibiting symptoms will properly isolate from the rest of the school until a parent or caregiver can safely pick them up.

2) Safe Transportation

The ministry has also developed the following transportation protocols to ensure students are coming to and from school safely, these include:
o Assigned seating for students and a record of this seating plan on school buses.
o Students who live in the same household will be seated together.
o Where possible, the ministry is encouraging parents to transport their own children to and from school.
o Cleaning and sanitation of buses or other vehicles used to transport students is required between each run.

3) Safe Access

Students will be able to safely access and move throughout school facilities through the implementation of:
o Dedicated entrance and exit doors based.
o Staggered recess, lunch, and other class transition times to allow for additional space.
o Controlled flow of students and staff in common school areas, incorporating the use of directional signage and floor markings.

4) Safe Facilities

Increased sanitation measures in school facilities and the promotion of proper hygiene practices will be implemented. This includes:
o Increased availability of hand sanitizer wherever possible.
o Custodial staff will provide consistent sanitation of school facilities.
o Maintain hygiene of all frequently-touched surfaces and objects such as toys and classroom equipment.

5) Safe Classrooms

Measures are to be implemented to reduce risk of transmission in the classroom, including:
o Wherever possible, limiting physical contact such as hugs and handholding, as well as encouraging the use of alternative greetings such as “air high fives”.
o Utilizing outdoor spaces for learning when possible.
o Clear protocols for bringing supplementary school materials such as backpacks and school supplies in and out of schools.
o Classroom configuration to minimize contact.

6) Safe Supports

Considerations have been taken to safely support the learning needs of all students. Local health officials will be providing support to divisions for the implementation of these measures, including:
o Personal interactions with intensive needs/immune-compromised students’ conditions will be in place to allow for the provision of supports within a safe and secure environment, which may include in-school setting or other appropriate spaces such as for the delivery of education.
o Medically fragile students will have supports in place to address their educational needs.
o School divisions will work with their local medical health officer to address the unique needs of immunocompromised students, to prepare for the ongoing safety for students and staff in proactive and responsive measures, and will have alternative learning opportunities in place for students who are unable to attend school for medical reasons.
o School divisions will communicate regarding these supports directly with their local school communities.
o The Ministry of Education will continue to support mental wellness through initiatives such as our work with Kids Help Phone to promote professional counselling services, which are available 24 hours a day.
o To facilitate constant communication between school divisions and local health officers as we move through the school year, weekly briefs will occur between the education sector and health officials to bolster monitoring and access to local context and needs.

7) Safe Activities

To ensure adequate safety measures are taken, schools will adapt group activities to reduce physical contact, including:
o Established protocols for the reduced use of shared materials and classroom supplies.
o Identifying alternatives to in-person assemblies, such as virtual assemblies.
o Participation in extra-curricular activities will be dependent on the most current guidelines as provided by Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer.
o Extra-curricular activities such as indoor sports are allowed as announced in the second part of Phase 4 of Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan.

8) Safe Alternatives

To ensure preparedness, there are four scenarios that may be activated regionally or provincially based on the advice of our Chief Medical Health Officer, they include:
o Level 1: Return to school, as close to normal as possible, with additional health measures and precautions. This is the scenario we are planning for come September 1.
o Level 2: Mask usage as determined by the Chief Medical Health Officer. These masks are being purchased centrally by the ministry of education and distributed to school divisions.
o Level 3: In the event it becomes necessary, school capacity will be reduced. This may include establishing cohorts and hybrid learning models as considerations.
o Level 4: Implementing learning continuity plans, which means transitioning to mandatory remote learning.

Divisions are asked to share their plan with the families, teachers and school staff they support. As the situation with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan is fluid, plans may be updated and adjusted as needed.

The school year is set to start as early as September 1 based on local school division calendars.

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