NDP calls for replacement of Sask. education minister
The Saskatchewan NDP Opposition is calling on Premier Scott Moe to replace the minister of education.
The call from the NDP follows criticism from the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) and the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) of last week’s plan for the return to classes.
The opposition said the return to school last week without a plan, and the lack of communication with the education sector, are the driving forces behind this call for his resignation.
“We have an education minister, the only one in the country, who has not taken additional steps to protect students and staff in our schools,” Carla Beck, the NDP’s education critic, said.
During a provincial press conference on Wednesday, Education Minister Dustin Duncan said the province consulted with school divisions about the Jan. 3 return to school plan.
In an interview with CTV News, both groups said robust communication was lacking - and they hope to see more collaboration between school officials and the Ministry of Education moving forward.
Both groups are also calling on the province to reinstate the Education Response Planning Team.
In an emailed response to the calls for Duncan’s replacement, the Governement of Saskatchewan said the NDP is “taking pointless and gratuitous cheap shots at cabinet ministers.”
“Both Premier Moe and Minister Duncan were in northern Saskatchewan today meeting with the La Loche school community and celebrating progress made towards their new school,” the premier’s press secretary said.
RECORD NUMBER OF CASES IN SCHOOLS
On Monday, the public and catholic school divisions in Regina and Saskatoon all confirmed the first week of resumed classes brought record high numbers of COVID-19 exposures in schools.
On Monday, the Regina Catholic School Division reported 136 new cases throughout the first week. Regina Public Schools is no longer reporting specific numbers of cases at schools, but reported at least 134 new cases in the first week back.
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools reported 238 new cases in its schools throughout the week, while Saskatoon Public Schools saw 148 new cases.
All divisions emphasize this number may not be entirely accurate as they are relying on families to report cases to their schools.
In many schools, it’s causing additional stress on staff.
“Our division is coping with the contact tracing and communication thanks to a lot of staff members working many extra hours. We did hire two former employees to do the bulk of the contact tracing work for us because our current staff was simply too busy to be able to do this off the side of their desks,” Twylla West, a spokesperson with the Regina Catholic School Division, said in an email.
“Prior we were only able to complete communication on cases after they were confirmed by the SHA. Now we rely on the honour system as we take calls from staff and families to report positive cases.”
The high number of cases in schools has prompted one high school student to launch a petition calling on the government to move all classes online.
“Hopefully we get enough signatures so there’s at least some recognition to the point where they rethink their decisions, or bring into effect some measures to reinforce the pre-existing measures to prevent COVID-19 in schools, such as better social distancing and better masking policies,” Nidal Qamer, a grade 11 student and creator of the petition, said.
He said for him, consistency is key when it comes to education. He said the high number of exposures lead to increased absences in the classroom, which causes disruptions to learning.
“Where’s the balance with that? Because here you have a lot of kids who are experiencing close contacts and getting COVID-19 because this Omicron variant is so highly transmittable. On the other hand, we could stay home and be remote learning and people wouldn’t be getting sick and there would be risk,” Qamer said.
He said he thinks it would be most effective to move all classes online for this term and start fresh in school in the Spring.