Province announces expanded back-to-school plan

The Government of Saskatchewan announced that they will be providing the province’s schools with more resources, more information, more time, and more testing in order to reopen safely.

Premier Scott Moe announced that $40 million will be allocated from the province’s $200 million COVID-19 contingency fund for additional costs related to ensuring the safety of students and staff throughout the pandemic.

Of the $40 million allocated, $20 million will be available to school divisions on an application basis for pandemic-related costs like staffing and sanitizing supplies.

$10 million will be used to enhance non-classroom options like distance learning, to help children more at-risk for the virus to have access to continuous learning.

The last $10 million will be given to the Ministry of Education to procure masks, PPE, and all other necessary supplies.

“This $40 million is in addition to funding, and it will match and compliment the $40 million that the school divisions have realized in savings by not operating last spring,” stated the premier on Monday afternoon.

“It will make a total of $80 million available to school divisions for the safe return to school this fall.”

School divisions will be able to apply for the funding starting Tuesday.

The premier also announced that school-specific operation plans will be available for parents and students no later than August 26th.

Return to class is now scheduled for the Tuesday after the Labour Day long weekend, September 8th, instead of the initial date of September 1st.

The government says the extra time will give teachers and staff more time to be able to be trained on the new protocols, and possibly hold virtual meetings with parents to discuss those procedures.

The province is also working towards a daily testing capacity of 4,000 tests by the beginning of September, and says they will continue to offer testing to anyone wanting to be tested. There will also be drive-through testing sites re-implemented back in Regina and Saskatoon.

All teachers and staff are being encouraged to get tested before returning to school and at frequent points during the school year. Priority access testing will be given to teachers and staff in the coming weeks.

Premier Moe said that targeted school testing is a key focus to the province’s expanded testing plans. Participating schools will be selected on factors such as number of students, or if the community is experiencing a surge in new cases. Testing will not be conducted without parental consent.

As part of the August 26 school specific plans, parents will be provided with detailed information that includes instructions about what to do if a child tests positive, and what a classroom and school would do to follow up and protect others.

Last minute changes are too little, too late

The Saskatchewan NDP took charge at the government’s updates to the Safe Schools Plan saying parents, teachers and students are still in the dark about how schools will reopen safely, and how school divisions are left struggling to implement the government’s unclear, inadequate and constantly changing guidelines.

“The moment schools were closed in March is the moment Scott Moe and his government should have begun planning for a safe reopening,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili in a release on Monday morning.

“They’ve had five months to put a plan in place. This last-minute, eleventh-hour scrambling shows how they failed to do their job.”

Meili added that even with the $40 million infusion, per-student funding this coming year will still be lower than it was in 2016.

(With files from Moises Canales)

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