Two Prince Albert school divisions jointly became the first English divisions in Saskatchewan to require high school students to wear masks in classrooms.
Major divisions in Regina and Saskatoon made it mandatory for students in elementary schools in those cities to wear masks, but left it optional for those in Grades 9 through 12. Only the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises (CÉF), which operates 15 French schools in the province, announced a mask requirement for high schools.
Prince Albert's Saskatchewan Rivers and Prince Albert Catholic School Division released a statement Tuesday announcing their plans to return to school for the 2021-2022 school year, including a mask mandate for high schools.
"The divisions have taken the advice of medical experts and will start the school year requiring masks indoors in all schools for PreK to Grade 12 students, staff and visitors and on all school buses," the statement said.
Masking indoors provides an extra layer of protection and allows for extracurricular clubs, sports and activities to resume as long as the appropriate protocols are in place, the statement said. It will also allow parents to return to some "in-person connections" in schools, the statement said.
Masks will not be required for outdoor activities, the statement from the school divisions said.
Both school divisions released their return to classroom plans in conjunction with the joint statement.
Both said the details of each of their plans would be reviewed on an ongoing basis. Reviews would take the experiences of staff, families and students into account and rely on the advice from local medical health officials and data related to transmission risk, COVID-19 cases rates, vaccination rates and epidemiological evidence.
In-class learning is the priority for both school divisions, though online options are available to students enrolled in a Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division and to high school students in the Prince Albert Catholic School Division.
A spokesperson for the Catholic school division said in-person learning was the preference for students enrolled in elementary schools in that system.
Staff, students, teachers and visitors at all schools covered by both divisions were asked to monitor and memorize the symptoms of COVID-19 and told to stay home if they felt unwell.
Vaccinations are not mandatory for staff, students, teachers or visitors, but both divisions encouraged those to get their vaccines to do so if they hadn't already.