Sask. Rivers to become ‘mask friendly’ when mandate lifts

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division board of education met at the Education Centre in September

When Monday, Feb. 28 comes the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division will be removing their mask mandate following a letter from Minister of Education Dustin Duncan.

In the letter Duncan encourages schools to be ‘mask friendly’ and this is the direction that Saskatchewan Rivers is taking.

We are using the more commonly used term—mask friendly,” education director Robert Bratvold said. “We do encourage individuals to make those choices about masks that match their own risk and their own needs.”

In a letter to families on Feb. 11 the division states that wearing a mask will be an individual choice in schools. They will support individuals in choosing to wear a mask or not.

If individuals, staff and students look at their own needs and decide that the mask is something that fits their circumstances, we will absolutely support that and encourage them to do that,” Bratvold said. “If they feel that masks are not necessary for their own personal circumstances then we will support that too. We want to make sure people are supported and feel safe in what choice they make.”

The division sent out a letter on Feb. 9 saying they would continue to look at their options around the mandatory masking debate. Bratvold said the board still wanted to get some health advice and look at their legal obligations.

We planned to do that in the next week and then make some decisions, but then on Friday the Minister’s directive came out and so there is no more question,” he explained. “The Minister has authority under the act to provide those directives and there is an expectation that school divisions abide by them.

There is a little bit of greyness around some of them but it’s pretty clear that the division respects that Minister’s authority and will comply with the directive,” he added.

The letter to parents also notes that the end date of the Public Health Order for masking and isolation changed so that it will now end on Feb. 27.

As a result, all division facilities will be removing masking requirements effective 12:01am of Monday Feb. 28.

Bratvold said they support continued mask use for as long as individuals feel it is necessary, based on their own personal risk factors. They will continue to provide masks to schools for personal use and choice, as long as supplies last.

Bratvold said that a directive from the Minister of Education has been rare in his 30 years in education but there has now been one in November, 2021 around sports and the Feb. 11 directive about masks.

Given the circumstances with COVID maybe that is not surprising but it is a rare event,” Bratvold said.

He added that circumstances can change with outbreak declarations by local medical health.

That is not unlike what has happened in the past, rarely but with particular communicable disease outbreaks,” he said. “I remember years ago when in the community there was some cases of TB and so there were orders from the local medical health officer around precautions in a particular school and we abided by those.”

If additional measures are needed, Bratvold said they will put them in place.

Effective Feb. 14, Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division will rescind Administrative Procedure 423 that required vaccination or proof of a negative test for employees.

There was a delegation scheduled for the February meeting with a presentation around vaccination. They will be sent a letter saying that they no longer need to attend as the province has made changes since January when they first appeared as an unexpected delegation.

They had been scheduled to be here on Feb. 7 in particular on the vaccine mandate, but the power went (out) and we couldn’t have the meeting. Things have changed since then and so it just seems redundant to have that presentation when we don’t have vaccine mandates anymore,” he said.