Regina– Saskatchewan’s New Democratic Party Education Critic Carla Beck welcomed the additional $51 million announced on Sept. 8 by the provincial government for the education system’s COVID-19 response, but feels the timing was off.
She said, “The announcement of money is, of course, welcome. But the timing, as has been the timing all the way through this pandemic with a back to school plan, I think is off.
“The minister stated today that this money would go a long ways to ensuring safety of students. Students are in the classroom today. And this money would have been, I think, better spent, better allocated at least a month ago, or two months ago, when we were asking questions and certainly school divisions, were asking questions about confirmations of these additional resources.”
Regarding demand for substitute teachers, Beck said, “I think this is one of those instances of reasonably foreseeable costs that are going to be asked of school divisions.
“I've heard from a number of substitute teachers already that they're fully booked for the first week. There have already been shortages of substitute teachers around the province. When we know that social distancing reduced class sizes are important factors in reducing transmission in our schools, why we're waiting until the first day of school, first day back to be looking at additional teachers, a confirmation of those additional teachers, really defies logic.
“I think I've seen the Minister and the premier repeatedly suggest that they have nothing to atone for, nothing to apologize for, with regard to this back to school plan,” Beck said, adding she hoped the Minister of Education and the Premier would learn lessons from how this has gone so far.
“One of the things that I think really would be important is to talk to school divisions and get that money out the door in a timely manner instead of piecemeal, as we've seen over the last several weeks, which is really caused a lot of sleepless nights for parents, for teachers, for everyone in school divisions. I still think there's a long ways to go.”
Asked about Saskatchewan’s comparatively low COVID-19 active case count compared to other jurisdictions across North America, and how that concerns going back to school, Beck said, “We're certainly grateful and appreciative to everyone that's done their part to ensure that numbers do remain low. We've also seen in the last month how quickly that can change.
“I heard the minister say today, there's reasonable expectation that we will see increased transmission as people move indoors, as flu season hits, as we have more people coming together during for the fall.
“You know, it might not be this week; it might be later, but I think that, to think that we are not going to have outbreaks, and we are going to need additional resources like substitute teachers, would be folly not to plan for those things.”
She concluded, “The other piece is, if we have the ability if we invest in classrooms, now, if we invest in in smaller classrooms, we invest in personal protective equipment, we can keep transmission rates within schools low as well. And I think I think that's very important. You know, the rules that we see in the larger community in restaurants and gatherings that have helped to keep transmission rates low. I think what people are asking for are some of those measures to be enacted in schools as well, to help keep the transmission rates low.”
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury