STF calls for re-implementation of masking policy in schools

On Tuesday, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) called on Minister of Education Dustin Duncan and the Government of Saskatchewan to immediately reinstate COVID-19 public health measures in schools.  

This was based on the latest wastewater data from the University of Saskatchewan which shows an increase of 742 percent in Saskatoon. Data for North Battleford and Prince Albert also shows surges of 250 percent and 56 percent, respectively. 

“It is obviously time to be responsible and re-implement some of the provisions that kept schools relatively safe through the first two years of the pandemic,” STF President Patrick Maze said. 

“None of us want to re-implement masking, none of us want to have to increase our safety precautions,” he added 

The STF called for mandatory masks in schools as well as on school buses and for extracurricular activities. They also want an isolation requirement for those who test positive and are close contacts, increased transparency and data sharing with schools on COVID-19 cases, increased reporting on cases to the public so parents can make informed decisions and exercise personal responsibility. 

The federation also called for access to PCR testing for teachers and all student-facing school staff and to reconvene the Education Sector Response Planning Team to ensure successful and consistent implementation of measures.  

Maze said there have been indications the healthcare system is under increasing strain.He said reintroducing basic health measures in schools would lead to fewer hospitalizations, while allowing schools to keep operating.  

“There is potential for an increase and another wave hitting,” Maze said. 

“We need to all do our part and in schools that means masking and doing the small things that we can in order to make sure that our schools are kept safe in order to keep our communities safe (and) in order to decrease the strain on the healthcare system.” 

Maze explained that the STF is hearing about high absentee rates in both students and school staff as well as substitute teacher shortages. He said the latest wastewater numbers show that problem could get even worse.  

“Obviously, there is a high demand for substitutes which means that teachers and school staff are needing to stay at home due to a variety of reasons, but most definitely when we know the wastewater treatment plant in Saskatoon and Prince Albert and North Battleford are indicating incredibly high exponential increases in COVID,” he explained. 

He also said that indications of a sixth wave are present in Ontario and provinces east. When combined together, he said all those factors mean public health measures are necessary. 

“The sixth wave is here and that causes significant concern that COVID is spreading in our schools,” he said. 

“We would just like a return to masks so that we can have some basic safety precautions in our schools.” 

Maze said that the call for sharing of more information is important to keeping track of divisions experiencing high rates of COVID-19. Without it, he said school boards, teacher and parents will have a harder time making difficult decisions. 

The problem, according to Maze, is that the lack of information and not sharing information across the provinces makes it difficult to know what is happening. 

“Then we end up relying on things like the wastewater and school student and staff absentee rates to determine that COVID is spreading rapidly in Saskatchewan,” he said. 

In their release the STF stated that if the government continues to ignore the reality in communities and classrooms and fails to introduce basic health measures, the Federation urges the school divisions to fulfil their obligations and exercise their authority to protect students’ access to education and the health of students and staff. 

michael.oleksyn@paherald.sk.ca 

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