'Damage control': Teachers' Federation seeks province-wide remote learning after spring break

·3 min read
The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation wants all students across the province to learn from home for two weeks after the upcoming spring break — and it's calling on the provincial government to give school divisions direction. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images - image credit)
The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation wants all students across the province to learn from home for two weeks after the upcoming spring break — and it's calling on the provincial government to give school divisions direction. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images - image credit)

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation is calling for the province to direct all schools to shut down in-class learning and move online for two weeks after the upcoming spring break.

The transition to mandatory remote learning would begin on April 12 and last until April 23, STF president Patrick Maze said Wednesday afternoon.

Maze says the request comes after a number of COVID-19 cases — many of them presumably variant cases of concern — have popped up in schools outside of hotspot Regina, including in Saskatoon and other communities in the southeast region.

"It's a little too late to be proactive," Maze said. "We need to be in damage-control mode now, and make sure we're keeping staff and students as safe as possible knowing that the [COVID-19] variants have already spread through our province."

Moving to remote learning for two weeks after the break would allow some buffer time to identify possible cases of COVID-19 and limit transmission throughout schools, Maze added.

Regina's public and separate school divisions, along with the Prairie Valley School Division and schools in Moose Jaw and Caronport, have already made the shift to online learning. The return date for in-class learning is set for April 12, the Monday after the spring break.

"It's not good enough to allow all [remaining] school divisions to stay open," Maze said. "With this variant, it will spread through every school division — and it puts staff and students and their families at risk. That's just not acceptable," Maze said.

Wait for rapid testing in schools continues

Maze said rapid COVID-19 testing kits are still not being used in schools across Saskatchewan, despite recent calls from the STF and the Opposition NDP.

A how-to video on rapid testing is still in the works, along with the appropriate training needed to help people use the kits, he said.

"There are still a lot of details that need to be worked out, and, unfortunately, COVID variants are not waiting for details; they're spreading rapidly and we need to get in front of it," Maze said. "If we had rapid testing in our schools two months ago, we would actually be very well situated for detecting where the variant is hitting and have a better understanding of what it's doing."

Last week, Health Minister Paul Merriman said the province is taking the future use of rapid tests on a division-by-division basis, noting some school divisions have "expressed interest" in using them.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, also said more community-wide measures are being taken contact tracing-wise to determine whether people need more COVID-19 testing before returning to work or school.

School divisions will work in consultation with local medical health officers to determine when — and if — rapid testing is needed.

Rapid tests don't replace community testing centres

The Ministry of Education said in a statement that rapid tests are used to identify people who are asymptomatic but may have COVID-19, though it doesn't replace community testing centres.

"They may be carried out when there are known cases in the school and/or community, to ensure that additional positive cases are quickly identified and isolated, in order to curb the transmission of the virus," the statement read.

The ministry said it and the school divisions follow the advice of public health officials, and the decision to move to a different level of the Saskatchewan Safe Schools Plan is determined by the local school division in consultation with local public health officials.

"As the situation with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan continues to evolve, the Ministries of Health and Education continue to have regular communication with all provincial school divisions to support appropriate local decisions to support education continuing as safely as possible at the appropriate level," the statement read.