Divisions prepare for remote learning after school closure

Local public health recommended both public and catholic divisions transition to Level 4 on Friday

Students were guided into one of the entrances to Vincent Massey School in Prince Albert on the first day of classes, Tuesday, Sept. 8./Michael Oleksyn Daily Herald

Prince Albert’s school divisions are preparing for remote learning after announcing on Friday they would be moving to Level 4 of the safe schools plan.

The safe schools plan includes four phases of education delivery. Level 4 is a “transition to alternative learning opportunities offered by divisions.”

Both the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division and Prince Albert Catholic School Division, on the recommendation of local public health, jointly announced they would be moving to Level 4 on Friday evening.

The Prince Albert public health unit has been working together with the school divisions to identify risks and provide guidance to reduce the risk of transmission within schools for both students and staff, the statement read.

Prince Albert’s local public health officer, Dr. Khami Chokani was unavailable for an interview on Monday but a statement was provided on his behalf.

“In recent weeks there has been an increase in community transmission, along with the number of individuals from various schools (students and staff) who have tested positive for COVID-19. The elevated community transmission presents an increased risk, and as a result the school divisions have taken further action under the provincial Safe Schools Plan.”

Catholic school division director of education, Lorel Trumier, said that the division had been watching increasing number of cases involving community transmission and reviewing health data.

The meeting between public health and school divisions occurred late Friday afternoon. According a to Sask. Rivers Facebook post, public health finalized their recommendation at 5 p.m. that night.

“We knew that it was better to tell the families immediately. It wasn’t ideal the time of the day by the time we came out of that meeting, it was late,” Trumier said.

She added that the division tried to communicate with students, staff and parents quickly.

“Ever since then we’re working to make sure that they’re informed about the different elements of how things will work.”

Trumier said preparing for remote learning is a work in progress for the Catholic school division. A learning management platform is being used by staff to provide learning programs to students.

The division held meetings on Monday to start rolling out procedures for transitioning to remote learning. Parents will be notified by staff members on when they can pick up their children’s belongings that were left behind such as textbooks, ski-pants, and running shoes.

Administrative groups are also working to ensure families who don’t have access to technology, receive technology resources over the next couple of days.

“We’re looking at providing some additional virtual applications for reading programs, math programs, that will support and reinforce some of the basic skills and learnings that students have,” Trumier added.

Trumier said this isn’t something she hoped for. She said part of her is always working to keep students in schools.

“We spent a lot of time and effort making sure that we could keep them in school and so when we know it’s the decision that’s right for our community, we have to walk away and say OK this is what our next task is, and remote learning will be our next task.”

Trumier applauded staff for doing a good job of making connections with students. She also applauded health care and essential workers “who have the courage everyday to do what they need to do.”

A Facebook post from Sask. Rivers and director of education Robert Bratvold said that schools are safe places but the move to remote learning is needed to support the health care system.

“This is a (Public Health) recommendation based on their alarming data and a preventative measure to prevent the further spread of COVID and to preserve the integrity of the health care system.”

The post further stated that schools and teachers have established remote learning programs such as Google Classroom and SeeSaw in their classrooms.

“Since the fall, teachers have been asked to move to remote learning on short notice and have strategies in place.”

Bratvold said while there will be challenges, this is expected to be short-term and not months long.