No masks immediately required, no smaller class sizes in Sask. back-to-school plan
REGINA -- The Saskatchewan government won’t immediately impose mandatory masks or create smaller class sizes for when kids return to school, a move that is causing concerns.
NDP education critic Carla Beck said Thursday the province's back-to-school plan fails to protect students, families and education professionals.
“It is inexcusable that the government has had this long to prepare and has made no effort to reduce class sizes or take seriously the conversation on masks that is happening around the country,” Beck said in a news release.
The Sask. Party government defended the plan, saying it can be changed should the pandemic worsen.
Education minister Gordon Wyant told reporters the province has ordered six million masks should they be required.
The government is considering mandating masks in schools if the province reaches a level two scenario.
“We may well have to reduce class sizes, we may well have to put other things in place to ensure that school settings are safe,” he said. “It will be based on the advice from the chief medical health officer.”
Wyant said the plan looks to minimize contact within schools, though he acknowledged that it might be difficult.
For instance, lunches and recesses will be staggered to help minimize interactions between students. They will have access to more hand sanitizer and custodial staff will consistently sanitize facilities.
More details of the plan can be found here.
Despite the efforts, Beck says the plan doesn’t do enough to ensure safety.
She said smaller class sizes, clear mask guidelines and funding are needed for schools to successfully re-open.
“Prior to this pandemic, classrooms were already overcrowded and understaffed – those huge issues are still not addressed,” Beck said
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) said it’s encouraged the government is considering masks, but it has other questions and concerns.
In a news release, the organization said schools should be made as safe as possible. Closed and crowded spaces, as well as close contact between students, should be avoided, it said.
“We all want to return to the classroom, but it must be done safely,” said Patrick Maze, the president of the STF.
“Considering masks is a step in the right direction. Teachers and parents are questioning whether this is enough and why there are inconsistencies between the broader public health measures and what is required in schools,” he said.
When asked about why the back-to-school plan isn’t in line with broader health measures, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said students are generally in the same co-hort.
As well, he said transmission isn’t as efficient with kids in early elementary grades as it is for adults.
Alberta recently changed its back-to-school plan, requiring masks be worn from Grade 4 to 12 in common areas. Other provinces have also required masks for schools, though some have not.
Wyant said Saskatchewan could change the plan before Sept. 1.
Each school division has developed its own back-to-school plan that’s based on the province’s requirements. Parents and school staff can expect details of these plans soon.