Sask Rivers encourages students to use rapid tests ahead of return from Christmas

Herald file photo. Robert Bratvold answers a question during the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division annual general meeting in 2016. On Friday, provincial government sent a letter to the division asking them to find ways to freeze labour costs for the next year. Bratvold said there are some concerns about the request, but no final decisions would be made until March at the earliest.

Absenteeism a problem because of omicron variant in division

Before students returned to classes on Jan. 3 Saskatchewan Rivers School Division director of education Robert Bratvold sent a letter to parents around the division. The letter, which was distributed through social media accounts by schools in the division made some recommendations of additional measures for a safe return to school because of the COVID-19 omicron variant.

Bratvold explained that the letter was sent on Dec. 30 and was meant as an encouragement not a requirement.

“It was just an opportunity to kind of say we know that parents are wondering so let’s reach out well before school starts and give them the lay of the land. We think there is some concerns, be aware, we are going to do our best to address collectively some things in schools and some things that families can do at home,” Bratvold said.

The letter stated that schools were scheduled to open on Jan. 3 unless public health announcements determine otherwise.

After collaboration with Prince Albert Chief Medical Officer Dr. Khami Chokani and his communicable disease team the recommendations included taking a rapid antigen test daily or every second day before school starts and monitoring for symptoms daily and do not send a student to school if they have COVID-19 symptoms or cold or flu symptoms.

In addition, all students and staff who have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive people in the last two weeks were encouraged to have a PCR test before returning to in-class learning.

They also encouraged people to continue to use all available layers of protection such as proper hand hygiene, maintaining physical distancing and wearing a mask when appropriate.

They also encouraged vaccination through clinics in the city.

The division already has administrative procedure in place for staff requiring them to be vaccinated or have proof of negative test.

“They are well in place and well understood and we initially had some challenges around with our substitute staff because not all of them got the same messages at the same time, but we worked through that,” Bratvold explained.

“I am not saying it is not without inconvenience or challenge but they are well understood and smoothly operating,” he added.

There have been reports in other parts of the country that with the rise of omicron an increase in absenteeism in students and staff has become apparent and Saskatchewan Rivers is no different according to Bratvold.

“I mean we are still I would say in terms of staff absences we are not in the worst place that we have been. We know that there are occasions where teachers and other staff are away from school for required reasons and we have been unable to secure a substitute person for them so that has happened,” Bratvold said.

He explained that they are managing this through reassigning personnel. This includes administration or other teachers in the school covering the classroom for periods of time.

“It has become a challenge and frankly I think we are being told by health that it is likely to become a greater challenge in the coming weeks. So we will continue to monitor that and respond as best we can to each of the cases,” Bratvold said.