No mask required or reduced class size provided when Sask. students return to school in Sept.

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Saskatchewan will send its Kindergarten to Grade 12 students back to school next month without requiring them or their teachers to wear masks and without a plan to reduce class sizes, although the Education Department is planning to buy masks in case the COVID-19 situation worsens.In a long-awaited update on Tuesday, the ministry highlighted eight priorities it says are factored into plans to reopen all school boards across the province. The province’s back-to-school task force has reviewed plans proposed by school boards in recent weeks.

The plans represent four potential “levels” of precautions, the province said in a statement. It did not detail what would prompt a school board to move from one level to another.

“There is no real threshold,” Wyant said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. “It will really depend on one school per school. ”

Students returning on September 1 will do so at “level 1”, which means “as close to normal as possible, with additional health measures and precautions”.

Level 1 does not require masks, reduced classes or on-site testing and screening.

“We think that’s the best practice, at least initially,” Wyant said.

“Many experts have said that there is a need to provide as normal and reassuring an environment as possible when school begins, especially for young children,” Shahab said.

Earlier Tuesday, the Alberta government announced that students and staff in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear masks when physical distancing is not possible.

Level 2 would involve the use of a mask if the province’s chief medical officer, Dr Saqib Shahab, deemed it necessary, the statement said.

“The masks are purchased centrally by the Department of Education and distributed to school divisions,” the statement said.

Level 3 would see a reduction in “academic ability”.

Level 4 would involve “the transition to compulsory distance learning”.

The province also announced that as of Tuesday, daycares can accommodate up to 25 children, up from 15 previously.

Wyant said there will be weekly briefings for education and health officials to help coordinate efforts such as necessary testing.

Next steps

The ministry said divisions are encouraged to share their plans with families, teachers and other school staff.

As the situation with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan is fluid, plans can be updated and adjusted as needed, ”the statement said.

Outside of the four scenarios, Tuesday’s announcement largely echoed ideas included in the province’s back-to-school guidelines released in June, except that those items are now confirmed as part of school board plans instead of be simple suggestions.

Examples include:

  • Children should stay home if they are sick.
  • Buses must be cleaned after each race and students must sit in the assigned seats.
  • Schools needed dedicated quarantine areas for children to test positive for COVID-19.
  • Recess and class start times must be shifted.

Tuesday’s announcement also reiterated the need for diligent sanitation and said “on-call staff will ensure consistent sanitation of school facilities.”

Suggestions made

The guidelines released by Saskatchewan in June suggested possible milestones, including staggered vacations and class start times, but did not provide for small groups of students or reduced class sizes, as some do. provinces.

The province stressed the importance of reducing the chances of physical contact for young children, offering suggestions such as games that promote “two-arm lengths” and getting rid of toys that encourage shared play.

Schools were asked to keep plenty of soap and hand sanitizer on hand.

“Whenever possible, students and staff should have their own hand sanitizer,” according to the guidelines.

Isolation zone

The June guidelines also encouraged staff to stay with the same groups of students throughout the day.

Schools were told that they should plan to have “an appropriate isolation zone” for students who test positive for COVID-19. However, the guidelines – published long before the recent spike in COVID-19 cases – did not stipulate on-site screening or testing.

« [Those are] not required or recommended at this time, based on current evidence, ”say the guidelines.

Saskatchewan students could be back in class on September 1.

Guidelines criticized

The Saskatchewan NDP criticized the guidelines for their lack of power and for not including new funding for classrooms that the opposition party said were already underfunded and overcrowded before the pandemic. The party called on the government to reduce class sizes when schools reopen.

“Funding needs to be clearly identified so that each school division is able to provide PPE and have the staff available to do the additional sanitation work needed,” an NPD statement said last week.

The province has established a task force to help it develop its school plans. The team attracted members from the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, the League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents, and the Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials.

After the guidelines were released, school divisions across the province made plans to bring teachers and students together safely in classrooms this fall. The councils have submitted their proposals to the Ministry of Education. The ministry provided them to the working group for review and comment.

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