Local school divisions still working on return to school plans

Directors for both the Prince Albert Catholic School Division and Saskatchewan Rivers School Division says return to school measures for the 2021-22 school year are still being finalized, but students and parents can expect at least some safety measure to remain in place.

Robert Bratvold with Sask. Rivers and Lorel Trumier with PA Catholic both said their division plan to keep enhanced cleaning routines in place, and keep working with public health officials to make sure students and teachers safely return. However, other plans are still under discussion.

“We are just engaging with our medical officers as we speak,” Trumier said. “A plan had been released by the province some time ago, and it did indicate there that there could be changes if there is a change in the risk or epidemiology.

“That is currently the stage we are at. We are trying to inform ourselves about what’s the current state and what’s the anticipated state,” she added.

“So far we have respected the ministry’s direction about returning to school planning in a pre-pandemic way and we will have operations as close to as that process as we can,” Bratvold said. “But, we are also working with our local medical health officer and team here to see what kind of local supports might need to be in place.”

According to the province’s recently released three-page ‘21-22 Safe School Plan, the school year will proceed as if it was a regular pre-pandemic year. Schools will not be required to have masking, physical distancing or other COVID-19 restrictions used last year. Much like other businesses and sectors throughout the province, public health officials have determined that it is safe for schools to resume traditional in-class learning.

The plan states that the current approach may change if there is a change in risk or epidemiology.

The guidelines set out by the province also state that local public health should be consulted.

Bratvold compared the approach in the division to what occurred when schools reopened last school year and each division followed the provincial Safe Schools Plan.

“We are kind of doing the same thing this year. The ministry puts out their safe schools plan and we implement our operations according to that plan,” he explained.

Both divisions are continuing with what they consider to be best available layers of protection against the COVID-19 virus. That includes things like enhanced cleaning and strictly enforcing a stay-home policy for those who don’t feel well.

Trumier said school divisions across Canada are wrestling with the issue.

“We know that the provinces around us are in that same stage of determining plans, and we are much the same,” Trumier said.

Sask Rivers has invested money in capital projects to improve air flow in their buildings. However, he also said a lot is still up for discussion.

Bratvold explained that it would remain in place in Saskatchewan Rivers.

“We will continue to have some hand sanitizing capacity within our facilities, so those things will be in place,” he explained. “Some of the other details we are still considering.”

Bratvold said final discussions will begin next week. They hope to have the final plan ready by the end of that week, or the week after.

He saluted the work staff, students and families did in the division last school year, and said they’re trying to build off of that in 2021-22.

“We know that our families and our students and staff did amazing work last year in terms of keeping kids as safe as they could be and still have a good learning experience in schools,” he said. “We are going to continue to do that, (and) be guided by our provincial medical health, our chief medical health officer and the ministry, with some direction from our local team as well.

“We are excited for our kids to come back to school and we are prepared to keep them safe in a joyful learning environment.”

The Catholic Division will continue to use the Edsby platform like they did last year, with Sask. Rivers set to use the platform too in 2021-22.

Trumier said previous common sense plans that are supported by local medical health officers will remain in place. She said the school takes its role in stopping the virus’ spread seriously.

“Many of our students are not eligible for a vaccine, so we need to take care of our children and we need to take care of our staff,” she said. “We are just working on initiating those conversations once again.”

Trumier said she expects their plan to be ready in a few weeks. She also said families have been informed that some protection plans from the last school year would be kept in place.

“We are just waiting to see what will happen,” she said. “Health is not our area of expertise, so we are relying on those (professionals) to help us with that as we go through this.”

Plans do not have to be submitted to the Ministry of Education before implementation.