The board of the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division met for the first time face-to-face since their March meeting at their final school board meeting of this school year on Monday, June 22 at the division’s Education Centre in Prince Albert.
The board initially thought of other options before moving to the conference call format they used the past three months, including their last meeting on Monday, June 8.
“Well it is our first meeting face-to-face since the beginning of March. We were thinking of Zoom at one time but we were hearing that there was some problems with access like people could hack in a Zoom call, the government experienced that and we always do a closed portion of our meetings so we thought it was better to stay on conference calls. ,” board chair Barry Hollick said.
“ I know that it is tough to capture that social connection on conference call, it can be done but it is different,” director of education Robert Bratvold added.
Hollick explained that the board chairs from across the province and Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) executive began the COVID-19 pandemic meeting three times a week by conference call and continue to meet once a week with the final meeting being Thursday.
“There were up to 50 people on those calls so for our board meetings we would have 14 or 15 on a conference call. It wasn’t bad there could be some bumps along the road but we managed,” Holick said,
“It worked out well, so we conducted business that way for March until this last board meeting,” he added.
Bratvold thought it represented a bit on certainty in an uncertain world.
“I think it is also a sign and a response to the Re-Open Saskatchewan that permits those kinds of gatherings. I think it is good to model that calmness and ability to return to some sense of normal and still adhere to those guidelines and recommendations,” Bratvold said.
The meeting included all nine trustees along with administration and took place in the office’s Seminar Room, which has more space than the regular board room.
“There was only one person missing last night — one of the superintendents — otherwise that room easily accommodated everybody quite well,” Hollick said.
The meeting was set up with physical distancing while the building itself remains closed to the public. Trustee Michelle Vickers took the precaution of wearing a mask but every person was conscious.
“We didn’t use the boardroom because we wouldn’t have been able to spread out,” he said.
They plan to return to this format once the new school year starts according to Hollick.
”I would think from now on we will meet face-to-face unless there is a flare up. I think people were quite comfortable. I talked to quite a few trustees and administrators after the meeting last night and everybody seemed to be comfortable with the situation that we have in that room,” he said.
One eventuality they must look at before returning in the fall is how to deal with delegations.
“It worked well and if we had a delegation it would be a concern how you would seat the delegation,” he said.
The impact of the pandemic was apparent to Hollick.
“The whole thing was kind of unimaginable, who ever thought that this was going to happen, you know, and as quickly as it did and the impact it has had on our students and our teachers and families who sit with their children and basically become teachers on the spot and then helping them out so it has been a long process,” Hollick said.
Hollick explained that the division was pleased to hear the announcement of schools returning to in-class learning from Minister of Education Gord Wyant in the fall and the division is following the guidance of the Ministry of Health.
“So if they are to tell us that we have to take certain precautions by the time they open school in the fall we will have to make sure that those are in place,” Hollick said.
Both Bratvold and Hollick thought it was an overall success.
“It was a good meeting and it was good to see everybody once again and if we have another meeting this fall it will be face-to-face,” Hollick said.
“It is nice to have that space and people were appropriately cautious and it was neither here nor there when you were gathering in conversation groups and make sure you have that space to protect you. It worked very well, the sound was more difficult, you were in a larger room so you had to make sure the people are projecting when they are asking questions or making comments but I think it worked very well,” Bratvold said.