Prince Albert School Divisions to finalize details on provincial changes next week

The Sask Rivers Education Centre/ Daily Herald File Photo

Both the Prince Albert Catholic School Division and Saskatchewan Rivers School Division are assessing their next steps following the provincial government’s decision to drop mandatory masking orders at the end of the month.

Education directors in both divisions will discuss the issue ahead of the mask mandate expiring after Feb. 28.

We will be in consultation reviewing some of our legal obligations,” Saskatchewan Rivers director of education Robert Bratvold said. “That’s one of the things that is challenging for people. For most people, it just seems so obvious, the government is going to do this just do it and that is how it seems.”

Sask. Rivers sent a letter to families on Feb. 9 outlining their next steps. In it, Bratvold wrote that the government was unlikely to renew the mandatory mask order, but since school divisions are techinically not public facilities, the board had an obligation to make sure reasonable safety measures are in place. That plan may include masking, but nothing is decided yet.

We are going to make a decision around masking, which we will do as quickly as we can,” Bratvold said on Thursday. “We will let folks know and the rest of the thing will be in place. We will gradually find some ways to live safely with COVID together.”

Bratvold said the board of education has obligations to meet under the Education Act, the Public Health Act and Occupational Health and Safety regulations before they can make a decision.

The board of education had a meeting scheduled for Monday and were planning to discuss this, however the power outage in the city of Prince Albert forced them to reschedule their meeting. The board will be holding a special meeting on Feb. 16 to finish the discussion. Bratvold said they will conclude the discussions and let families know before the end of next week.

We had the power outage on the Monday when we were going to have this conversation, so we took some time and sorted things out,” Bratvold said. “In some ways it’s unfortunate, right. We probably would have had a much clearer direction and that’s unfortunate. But in another way, it’s fortunate that we have a little more time to consider, to hear from parents, consult health and take a little time to discuss. The reality is the masking order is going to be in place until February 28. That’s a given.

The decision today isn’t going to make a difference in what happens in our schools tomorrow because they will still be required until the end of the month,” Bratvold added.

With proof of vaccination or negative test orders expiring on Monday, Feb. 14. Bratvold said that the current regulations have already accomplished much of what they were intended to do. to him, the directions were pretty clear.

The likelihood of it doing much more of that is pretty small and so it makes sense for that one to be removed,” he said.

Prince Albert Catholic School Division education director Lorel Trumier said they’ll act on similar lines. However, they are seeking some clarification from the Ministry of Education and public health befor going further.

We are also trying to assess risks for safety for staff and students,” Trumier said. “Our primary goal, of course, is to remain with in person learning and remain operational and also continue to provide a healthy safe environment for students and staff.

I think we are cautiously optimistic here about the move forward,” she added. “It sounds like we are progressing through the pandemic and that’s encouraging. We are going to do the same as other school boards across this province.”

The Catholic Division board of education is scheduled to meet on Monday, Feb. 14. They hope to have it figured out by next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Trumier explained that there are many elements going into this in a short period of time and the division wants to do their due diligence.

We have got lots of great processes in our school division that have really worked during the pandemic. We know that we are ready to review all of them, (as) we have said that all along, and we continue to do that,” she said.

We have been working like this for two years and we know that it is important to everybody involved. We are going to do our best to get some information out and also ensure that what we try to do is continue to provide the healthiest environment for our children.”

Trumier added that they plan to have a response to staff ready by the end of Monday.

Bratvold said that it was important to learn to ‘live with COVID’ but in safe and reasonable ways.

These changes will move us in that direction and we will move in that direction carefully,” he explained. “It’s not as though we think the pandemic is finally over or we are removing all of those safety layers of protection in schools.”

He gave examples of continuing to provide rapid antigen tests in schools and encouraging their use, hand washing and continuing thorough cleaning and sanitization.

We are still encouraging people to stay home when they are sick so you don’t spread it if you don’t have it and those sorts of things. It is just important for people to know,” Bratvold said.

Living with COVID doesn’t just mean you ignore it. That would be ridiculous. You still need to do those things that match the safety requirements that you need. That just makes sense,” he added.