The four largest school divisions in Regina and Saskatoon are mandating indoor mask use in elementary schools and recommending masks be worn in high schools when the school year begins next month.
Regina and Saskatoon public school divisions and the Regina Catholic school divisions released their back-to-school plans throughout the day on Monday.
Regina Public School director of education Greg Enion posted a return-to-school letter Monday morning.
"After a complicated year of class interruptions and temporary remote learning, my sincere hope was a traditional return to learning," Enion said.
"Unfortunately, the majority of our students, more than 15,000 children who will attend pre-kindergarten to grades 6 and 7 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated and are vulnerable to the risks that COVID-19 and its variants continue to pose."
The division will require students, staff, and visitors in its elementary schools to wear masks at all times while indoors and on school buses. Mask use will not be required outdoors on school grounds if physical distancing can be maintained.
The school division will "strongly recommend" mask use in high schools when physical distancing is not possible. Visitors are required to wear masks in high schools at all times.
"In consultation with Regina area public health officials, we will continually monitor COVID and variant cases closely and adjust mask and other guidelines based on public health direction," Enion said.
Enion said the division heard from parents staff and students in August and that they "overwhelmingly" expressed the "importance of strong safety practices, including required mask use."
He said Regina-area medical health officers also "strongly recommend mask use" in schools.
The Regina Catholic School Division released its masking guidelines on Monday afternoon.
"At the recommendation of our local medical health officers, our plan requires masks for all students, staff and visitors while inside elementary schools," said director of education Sean Chase in a letter to parents.
The Catholic school division will require students wear masks while on the bus, but not outdoors.
Chase said the division had planned to return under the province's safe schools plan released in July, which indicated schools could operate as they did in "pre-pandemic years."
He said the circumstances have changed given the spread of the delta variant and the advice of local medical health officers.
"While many of us hoped for a return to school as we knew it prior to COVID, the safety protocols in the plan are still necessary to protect our students, staff and families while also prioritizing in-person learning opportunities."
Chase said the protocols would help mitigate any "interruptions to in-person learning."
Both school divisions will be returning to a semester system in high schools.
Saskatoon Public Schools, the province's largest school division, announced Monday afternoon that it would also require masks inside elementary schools and recommended mask use in high schools.
"While vaccination rates significantly reduced COVID-19 cases, the spread of the delta variant has caused a resurgence. This is of particular concern for our youngest students who cannot be vaccinated," said director of education Shane Skjerven in an letter to parents and students.
The letter said the division will require those who are ill to stay home and for students and staff to do personal health screening before attending.
"All eligible students, staff members and community members are strongly encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine. We know that what happens in the community impacts our schools. If we work together, we can keep our students safe and have a successful year of learning," Skjerven said.
Unlike Regina high schools, Saskatoon Public Schools will move to a quarter system "to reduce contact."
Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools posted its return to school plan Monday afternoon.
It too will require mask use for students, staff and visitors in elementary schools.
Mask use is being "strongly recommended" for high school students. The division said in its document that if two-metre distancing can be maintained "staff may remove masks to enhance instruction and learning."
The division said the mask policy will be re-evaluated in mid-October.
Masks will be required while riding the bus, the division said.
The Conseil des écoles fransaskoises (CÉF), which operates 15 schools in the province, announced it will require masks in school and on school transportation for all students and staff, including high school. It is also continuing hygiene and safety rules including compulsory temperature checks.
On Friday, the provincial government released long-term precautions for dealing with COVID-19, which including guidance for schools.
"Once students are seated in their classrooms, it is appropriate to remove masks," said a government news release Friday. "For outdoor activities such as recess or outdoor gym classes, there is no recommendation for students to mask."
School divisions are free to make their own policy regarding mask-use as they did in the 2020-21 school year. Last August, the provincial government recommended masks in high traffic areas for grades 4-12.