Province clarifies some aspects of Safe Schools plan

Gord Wyant/ Herald File Photo

After releasing their back to school plan on Tuesday, the provincial government clarified some of the rules around cleaning and disinfection with a press release on Thursday. They explained that The Safe Schools Plan includes specific protocols for Safe Facilities which includes proper hygiene and increased sanitization.

“The province’s 27 school divisions have plans in place to ensure schools are properly sanitized and have hand washing protocols and routines in place to ensure students and staff are safe.

Following recent approval of these plans, specifics for individual schools are being coordinated with local medical health officers,” the release stated.

Common changes students and staff will see in schools will include objects removed that cannot be effectively cleaned or disinfected, such as story time rugs, hand sanitizer at accessible entry points such as the main entrance to the school and classrooms, mobile sink stations in common areas along with signage and instructions, scheduled hand washing times and protocols incorporated into structured learning for younger students and special consideration for cleaning products that are safe for food surfaces including water fountains.

The release also stated that the province and school divisions have ensured that all students and staff will have regular access to hand sanitizer.

“Together with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education is working to supply schools with gel hand sanitizer in the 500 ml and 50 ml bottles. This supply of hand sanitizer is in addition to the sanitizer, cleaning supplies and Personal Protective Equipment that schools have already procured either through government contracts or on their own,” The release said.

The province also clarified in terms of costing for the plan that the province’s school divisions had a saving of approximately $40 million for last school year, which is being used for costs associated with a safe return to school which may include increased custodial staff.

“Teachers and staff are not expected to purchase their own products as school divisions and the province will provide these and additional supplies as needed,” the release said.

They also explained that all of the requirements associated with the increased sanitization and disinfection of facilities including common areas will be completed by custodial staff throughout the day and teachers are not expected to conduct this work.

“All disinfectants and sanitizers used must be approved by Health Canada (DIN) and all label requirements, including contact time, should be followed. This may mean additional training for custodial staff to ensure proper application,” the release said.

The province, which made all division plans available on their website on Wednesday pointed to the plans of each division.

More responses to plan from opposition and CUPE Saskatchewan

CUPE Saskatchewan, the province’s largest union representing education support workers said in a release on Tuesday that the government’s approval of back-to-school plans in September with eight common main components does not provide the conditions necessary for a safe return in these far from normal times.

“The plans to return back-to-school by the provincial government lack the overall prerequisite safeguards and resources needed to protect against virus transmission before full in classroom learning begins,” Judy Henley, president of CUPE Saskatchewan said in a release.

“The rushed implementation and lack of key details leaves significant doubt that education staff and students will be properly protected.” she added.

The release explained that the union wrote Minister of Education Gord Wyant ahead of final plans to express concern that the government left out front-line staff represented by the union from the Education Response Planning Team.

“In its letter, the union warned the minister about conditions that prevent a safe return, including the lack of preparation time for support staff to get the plans in place before students return for the new school year and the provision of adequate personal protective equipment,” the release said.

The union also drew attention to cleaning cuts in the Prairie South School Division impacting Moose Jaw area schools and a lack of additional support from the province to boost the cleaning levels needed.

“You can have plans on paper, but the fact is the government is placing the burden on frontline staff without extra resources, without adequate preparation time, and without the additional cleaning staff necessary to keep students safe,” Jackie Christianson, chair of the CUPE Saskatchewan Education Workers Steering Committee and an educational assistant said.

“The plans for reopening schools are in need of a reality check from the front lines: education support staff are stretched far too thin, we are being left without the safety protections needed from this coronavirus, and we are not being heard.”

After the release about cleaning was made public the opposition responded.

“It has been two days since the Minister of Education delivered the worst return to school plan in Canada. They’ve downloaded responsibility onto school divisions with no funding – and crucially no funding to reduce class sizes,” Education Critic Carla Beck said in the release.

“Maybe that’s why instead of holding a briefing today – contrary to past practice during the COVID-19 pandemic – the Sask. Party has instead put out a release with no press availability, no minister quoted and no accountability,” Beck added.

Beck referenced the CUPE response and said the release does not address their concerns that the plan is “placing the burden on front-line staff without extra resources, without adequate preparation time, and without the additional cleaning staff necessary to keep students safe”.

“This government has failed to fund schools properly for years – and now with our kids returning to class we are flying blind with a government that will not step up to put Saskatchewan families first. The Sask. Party is letting people down. Parents and teachers – and our kids – deserve better than the Sask. Party’s arrogant and dismissive approach. They need to step up and provide answers,” Beck said.