Parents and educators call for changes to return-to-school plan

Parents and educators, including Ian Hecht, far right, rallied outside Joe Hargrave’s office Friday to call for a better back to school plan. /Michael Oleskyn Daily Herald

Around 30 concerned parents, teachers and education professionals held a rally in front of the office of Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave’s office on Friday morning to protest the recently released back-to-school plan. The rally was one of several organized across the province by the groups Safe Schools Saskatchewan and Keep Saskatchewan Kids Safe.

Among those in attendance was Ian Hecht who is both a teacher and a parent in Prince Albert and was concerned by a lack of specifics in the plan.

“I thought that their answer that the money that school divisions saved last year is the only money that is going to be spent on pandemic preparedness is shortsighted and I think that their notion of having these levels but not having any triggers between them is a little concerning. I would like to see some actual specifics put forward as a plan, you know a mask mandate, some money towards new custodial positions and those sorts of things,” Hecht said.

Hecht, who has been a teacher since 2002, explained that it is part of a pattern with regards to education funding and the Saskatchewan Party going back to taking away local control by taking away the mill rate from school boards early in their government. Hecht also believes that there has not been much changed since schools shut down.

“My biggest concern this fall is how is it different now going back to school than when we left in March and I see three squandered months, or five squandered months where they could have been putting together plans, they could have been preparing to do off day schooling or some kind of structure that would allow the students and parents to have some kind of confidence to return to schools and know that the Sask Party is taking their health seriously,” he said.

Hecht explained that his issue was that the plan did not really evolve since the initial announcement in June.

Also in attendance were Prince Albert Northcote NDP MLA Nicole Rancourt and Hargrave’s opponent in the Carlton constituency, Troy Parenteau. Both Rancourt and Parenteau made speeches to the crowd. Rancourt thanked the educators for all of their work since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Rancourt said that she was ‘livid’ when she first heard the plan.

“We are the only province not putting forward any extra resources for schools to be able to come up with a safe plan for the start of school. We know that a lot of it could have been changed if the Minister of Education was listening to teachers and the education staff before the pandemic. What we needed was to make sure that classrooms weren’t overcrowded like they are. We needed extra resources in our schools but what does this government do they underfunded education, they cut staffing, they cut our E.A.s, they cut our custodial employees they made it so it is incredibly difficult going forward,” Rancourt said.

She explained that the return to normal approach doesn’t fit what is happening in society.

Parenteau, who has worked as a teacher in Prince Albert for the past decade said the province was once a leader in education but since funding has not matched inflation, things have changed and the pandemic has brought that to light.

“This pandemic has highlighted the problems that teachers have been talking about over the past 10 years. You know the government had an opportunity and completely squandered it. They had an opportunity to put funding in to reduce class sizes, to put money in to insure that caretakers are there to sanitize our classrooms,” Parenteau said.

Also in attendance was retired educator and education counsellor Joanne Tilford who wanted to voice a concern of the lack of planning and foresight in education.

“We have seen it occur over time. This didn’t just happen,” Tilford said.

She explained that, in her view, the government has dismantled the education system and the pandemic has shown the disparities that exist between children in the education system. Hargrave’s office was closed during the protest and the people at the rally left their signs on the office.

“(We were)The last province to put something together it’s an abomination and the lack of interest that they have in education it’s embarrassing and Joe isn’t here and that’s sad,” Tilford said.

Parent Frank Harder was there because he was concerned because of his own daughter’s health issues.

“I am here because I have got kids that are in school and if the schools can’t even control head lice how are they going to control this?” he said.

Harder said there was no thought put into the plan including things like quarantine rooms.