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School abruptly ended in March of this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as a new school year begins, the government has left our 27 school divisions largely on their own to try to figure out and pay for a safe way to reopen our schools. The result looks like patchwork: the government’s guidelines to school divisions leave too many vital questions unanswered. For example:
- There are questions about how to maintain social distancing. Public health experts have told us again and again that social distancing is a vital part of flattening the curve and preventing a second wave of COVID cases. We know that prior to the pandemic, parents, teachers, and school support staff had expressed concerns about overcrowding, and wanted the government to put a cap on classroom sizes. Now, in the middle of the pandemic, the government has said that the number of students per class will not be capped or reduced. But social distancing is just not possible in a standard 900 square foot classroom with 30 students.
- There are questions about transportation. Will there be extra duties or training or protective equipment for bus drivers, who are often the first school employee that a child meets every day?
- Once children get to school, who will be responsible for screening or monitoring them for signs of illness? Will these people be supplied with the equipment and training they need?
And what happens if a child does get sick at school? Will there be a supervised, private room for them to wait for their ride home? What policies or procedures will be followed if a staff person suddenly becomes ill?
- Will extra cleaning staff be hired to do enhanced cleaning of classrooms, washrooms, playground equipment, and buses…or will these extra duties fall on the staff on hand, like Educational Assistants, Admin Assistants, or Bus Drivers?
On these and so many other practical details of reopening our schools, our government is letting us down.
The COVID pandemic has caused anxiety for all of us. The return to school, and the government’s lack of clear direction on it, has compounded our anxiety. Safety should be a top priority for our government. It is unacceptable to send children and educational staff into an environment where they cannot be kept safe, especially because of the increased risk that they will bring the virus home to their families. We know this risk is already having an impact on the mental health of school staff—at a time when access to proper mental health supports is a serious problem in Saskatchewan.
There’s a provincial election coming up this fall. It’s time to let your candidates know that you support investment in the future of this province and it needs to include both those who do, as well as those who do not yet, have a voice.