Sask. school divisions adjust to discontinued COVID-19 classroom contact tracing
School divisions in Saskatchewan are adjusting their practices for communicating COVID-19 cases in the classroom following directive from the provincial government.
As of Friday, Saskatchewan parents and caregivers are no longer required to tell schools if their child has COVID-19.
Shawn Davidson, the president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA), said this is a big change for all schools and their members.
“We will adapt to that change and do as the health officers direct us to do,” Davidson said. “It certainly does add a degree of simplicity to the contact tracing piece.”
He said over the past few weeks, school divisions have been challenged with additional work brought on by contact tracing.
“It’s health’s work and we really struggled with the capacity to get that done, so it certainly simplifies some of that work for us,” he said.
Davidson said school divisions are hopeful and confident parents will “do the right thing,” by keeping their children home if they’re sick.
Previously, classrooms would switch to online learning if COVID-19 exposures or cases reached a certain threshold.
Since cases are no longer being reported, there will be changes to how this is conducted. However Davidson said it’s not the end of online learning.
“As far as schools or classrooms being transitioned online, that has happened primarily at the request of local medical health officials, so they’re the authorities that are in the position to declare an outbreak,” he said. “I’m not certain what their criteria is with this change moving forward. To be very honest, their criteria has always been held by health and not necessarily something that we’ve have any influence on.”
SCHOOL DIVISION ADJUSTMENTS
Schools will no longer record and communicate COVID-19 cases with students and parents, but some will still monitor classes for potential shifts to remote learning.
Sean Chase, the director of education for Regina Catholic Schools, said administration will monitor attendance in classrooms.
“If we get to a situation where there’s a significant enough attendance concern for a period of time that just the operational logistics for the classroom would lead us into considering a move to remote learning, we would engage in that conversation,” he said.
Chase said their officials will still be in contact with public health for any advice.
“But, because there’s not contact tracing in place, then we wouldn’t necessarily have information as to the reason for absences being COVID-19. I’m not entirely sure how they’d be able to advise us from that standpoint,” he said.
He added staffing availability would be another factor to consider when it comes to remote learning.
The Prairie Valley School Division (PVSD) said it has advised parents to keep informing the division if their child is sick, but they don’t have to say if it’s COVID-19.
“We have to report when absentee rates reach a certain threshold, I think ten per cent,” Ian Hanna, spokesperson with the PVSD, said in an email. “Then, we monitor closely and accept the advice of public health about what to do next. When it gets to about 30 per cent absenteeism, they start thinking about shifting to remote learning.”
Regina Public Schools said its public health measures such as masking, enhanced cleaning and hand washing will remain in place despite the change to COVID-19 reporting.
“The school division reserves the right to move a class or a school to temporary remote learning if it is prudent to do so for health or operational reasons,” Terry Lazarou, the supervisor of communications, said in an email.
In a post on its website, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools encouraged guardians to continue reporting absences, including the length of absence if it is known.
It said schools will no longer be sending exposure notifications to parents and caregivers.
“Any classes that are currently online will move back to in-class learning Monday, Jan. 31,” the post reads.
The Saskatchewan School Boards Association, (SSBA) said school divisions have been working more closely with the province over the past few weeks, following a call for more collaboration earlier in January.
“(This decision) certainly does have some impact on our operations and we did get a presentation ahead of the announcement. The directors of education all attended that, so they would have a little bit of time to prepare for the change,” Davidson said. “There is a greater degree of conversations that are taking place now than what there maybe were a little bit ago.”
In a statement, the Ministry of Education said it heard feedback from many parents about their concerns with the former student close contact protocol. It confirmed the meeting with school division directors to inform them of the contact tracing change.
“We know that as case numbers occur in the community, they are also going to occur in our schools and there will be some disruption to in-class learning,” the statement said. “With a layered approached of continued masking, access to rapid tests, increased sanitation, cohorting and students and staff staying home when they are sick, schools are providing as safe a learning environment as possible.”
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