REGINA -- Education Minister Gordon Wyant defended the province’s new back-to-school guidance measures Tuesday after facing critics who say the plan falls short.

The measures, which only apply to schools that choose to mandate masks, would require students in Grades 4 through 12 to wear a mask in high traffic areas, like hallways and on buses.

Students in Grades 9 through 12 might be required to wear masks in the classroom in cases where it’s not possible to physical distance, or where the students are outside their co-hort.

These recommendations only apply to schools that want to move to a Level 2 scenario, in which masks would be required. 

In response to the measures, NDP Education Critic Carla Beck said the province’s guidance falls short.

She said parents still don’t know when, and under what conditions, masks will be mandatory.

“Saskatchewan parents, students, teachers, and school-based staff are still stuck with the worst plan in the country,” Beck said in a statement.

She said it’s frustrating that school divisions will bear the brunt, rather than the province providing clear guidance.

“The kids in this province deserve so much better than this government’s failed return to school plan,” Beck said.

Wyant defended the guidance, saying parents can be confident in the plans developed by local school divisions.

“I feel confident in the plans and I know public health feels confident in these plans,” he said, during a press conference.

“The local plans are responsive to the local conditions and I think school divisions have done an excellent job for returning to school in the safest way possible.”

Further to the plan, the province has initiated discussions with school divisions about guidance for a Level 3 scenario.

As well, the province has introduced additional measures for all school divisions, regardless of the scenario.

The province said all schools must ensure there are teacher and class co-horts to limit student interaction.

In elementary schools, co-horts will be in the classroom. High schools will be encouraged to find creative solutions to move students in co-horts where possible, the province said.

All divisions must have front-facing instruction for students. Public health will determine exceptions.

As well, all divisions must have staggered start times, breaks and end times where possible, the province said.

The province said students are encouraged to bring their own non-medical cloth masks.

The Government of Saskatchewan has spent $2.3 million to buy six million disposable masks for schools in Saskatchewan.

These masks will be made available to students, teachers and staff at the beginning of the school year and on a daily basis.

The government said it’ll continue to monitor COVID-19 transmission and will update the school plan if necessary.

Beck has urged the government to reconvene the Human Resources Committee so MLAs can hear from experts about back-to-school safety