With the Provincial Government set to announce their plan for a school reopening plan next week the opposition NDP set out their seven point wish list for the plan. Leader Ryan Meili and Education Critic Carla Beck called on the Sask. Party government to get serious about plans to reopen schools in September, and laid out seven essential requirements for a safe back-to-school plan in a press conference on Wednesday.
Meili said that MLAs and candidates have been on doorsteps recently and one concern they have been hearing is about schools reopening. He emphasized that everyone wants students back in schools but they also want it to be a safe return.
“The case numbers are rising and knowing that school opening and if we don’t get that right could make it much worse,” Meili said.
“We have been waiting to see a plan from the province. So they introduced a plan from the spring that was completely inadequate and if we are going to get reopening right, if we are going to get reopening our economy right, it’s going to mean getting reopening schools right and we need to have a government that is going to show leadership and take the right steps,” he added.
The province said that their plan is coming next week during press availability about COVID-19 on Monday.
Meili and Beck set out seven key requirements for a safe reopening plan.
“This is all going to require resources, dedicated dollars; the government continues to hide behind their pre-election contingency fund. We need to know exactly what dollars and that those are going to be adequate to properly resource a good, safe plan,” Meili said.
He continued a theme that has developed this week and focused on Health Minister Jim Reiter.
“Number one and I focus on the Minister of Health here; this is the role of the Minister of Health to make sure that schools are getting the right advice. School divisions need the proper guidelines to be safe,” Meili said.
Meili pointed directly at Premier Scott Moe, Minister of Education Gord Wyant as well as Reiter
“This is something we need to see leadership on, we need to see something that addresses these seven key issues,” Meili said.
The plan was developed after wide consultation with stakeholders according to Beck.
“This plan comes because we have been listening to parents, to teachers across the province. We had a Zoom call earlier in the month with over 200 teachers online expressing their concerns and their ideas,” she said.
“This is what we have come up with in consultation and I don’t think these conversations ever should be closed,” she added.
The first point was to fix COVID-19 testing in their release the NDP said that testing and tracing capacity must be in place to ensure that any outbreak is identified and dealt with swiftly so parents and teachers don’t have to wait a week or more for results. Further, the government must report daily on how many people are waiting for tests and how long people are waiting for tests and results. The second point was smaller class sizes. During the news conference they emphasized that classrooms were overcrowded and understaffed. The government must lower class sizes with appropriate funding and planning in place the release said. They also called for dedicated funding for schools to prepare instead of references made to a cross-government contingency fund.
They called for dedicated dollars to ensure safe school transportation (including safe busing) and appropriate staffing of both instructional and support staff (including substitute teachers and educational assistants) with enough capacity to ensure smaller class sizes and increased protective measures. The NDP also called for there to be clear procedures for what to do when students or staff tests positive or have symptoms and to ensure processes are in place to quickly communicate potential school-based or community-specific outbreaks to families.
One major part of the plan called for a phased approach which called for planning for scenarios including low case transmissions, which would allow for full in-person learning, increased community transmission which would make a hybrid approach necessary and for high caseloads which would require a similar situation as to what occurred in March.
Another point was to address the digital divide that exists in the province by providing for alternate and distance learning. This would ensure that all students have access to technology and resources for any distance learning.
The NDP said the government should identify spaces close to existing schools that could be used for instructional purposes, including for support of immunocompromised teachers and students, and those with immuno-compromised family members. They also called for clear guidelines to make sure that students with special needs are not forgotten or excluded in a return to school.
They also called for adequate PPE and clear mask guidelinesthrough identifying funding so every division can provide PPE and have staff do added sanitation work. It would also mean clear guidance on mask use in common areas in schools – and the distribution of masks and PPE in schools.
“We are asking a whole lot of teachers and staff to go back in the fall, the least we can do is have a clear plan for them a month in advance before we are asking them to step back in the classroom,” Beck said.