Sask. Polytech sticks with plan to resume in-person learning for 2022 winter term

·4 min read
In-person learning is scheduled to resume at Saskatchewan Polytechnic campuses in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert on Jan. 4, 2022. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
In-person learning is scheduled to resume at Saskatchewan Polytechnic campuses in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert on Jan. 4, 2022. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Students and some staff at Saskatchewan Polytechnic are returning to campus as scheduled next week, with added COVID-19 measures in place.

The post-secondary institution has campuses in Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon.

As of Dec. 29, the school's website lists the majority of courses for winter term 2022, starting Jan. 4, as "on-campus."

With the highly-transmissible Omicron variant spreading in Canada, the universities of Regina and Saskatchewan announced last week that their winter terms will be delayed until Jan. 10 to accommodate a temporary two-week move to remote learning.

Jesse White is the president of the Saskatchewan Polytechnic Students' Association (SPSA). He said there's two notable sides on the school's decision to move forward with in-person learning.

"There's obviously excitement from a large portion of students to get back to on-campus learning and get the best quality of learning we can for the money we spend on tuition," White said.

"However, there is also a large part — an equal part, maybe even more — of students that are concerned with returning to campus with the ever-changing issues around COVID-19, and the Omicron variant."

I don't think any decision made about this was going to please everybody,. - Jesse White, Saskatchewan Polytechnic Students' Association president

White said the SPSA has received calls from members asking whether the return to campus was "the right thing to do," or whether it would be better to have a complete reset in fall 2022.

"I don't think any decision made about this was going to please everybody," he said.

"Someone saying, 'You will be safe,' isn't going to be enough for a person who spent the last 18 months in their office, alone, and is now being thrust back into a hallway with 1,000 people. That's not something that is ever going to be easy."

White noted the school has been in "constant contact" with the SPSA throughout the pandemic and that, overall, Sask. Polytech has been doing its best to keep students safe.

Added COVID-19 measures

While in-person classes are expected to resume as usual, Sask. Polytech added the following COVID-19 measures for winter term:

  • Cloth masks will no longer be permitted.

  • Approved masks include: Level 3 procedural masks, N95s, KN95s and double masking with a cloth mask over level 3 procedural masks.

  • Capacity will be reduced in cafeterias and other designated eating / drinking spaces.

  • Capacity will be reduced in small study / meeting rooms and elevators.

  • Floor signage will be placed to encourage distancing at point of purchase locations, including the cafeteria and wherever lineups may occur.

  • Zoom will be used for meetings where possible. In-person meetings will be limited.

CBC News obtained a screenshot of an email sent on behalf of Sask. Polytech president and CEO Larry Rosia to employees on Dec. 22, 2021.

The email announced that until further notice, the school is not allowing "non-student and non-on-site instructional facing support services" to return to the workplace, due to the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

It goes on to state that out-of-scope managers will use their "best judgment in discussion with their staff" to determine which employees need to be on campus.

Sask. Polytech employees who are fully vaccinated must provide proof to the institution before attending campus. Those who do not disclose their status or are not fully vaccinated must test for COVID-19.

The email also noted booster shots for COVID-19 are strongly encouraged, and that Sask. Polytech is a strong advocate for vaccination against the virus.

Instructor concerned for safety

One Sask. Polytech instructor, who wished to remain anonymous to protect their job, shared their concerns about returning to campus with CBC News.

They said classrooms are crowded and questioned why social distancing was only necessary in the cafeteria and for lineups. They also wondered why remote teaching wasn't being allowed as an option at this time.

In response to CBC News' request for comment, Sask. Polytech emailed links to the latest COVID-19 information on its website. The page was last updated on Dec. 22.

Guided by provincial government

Despite differences in return-to-school plans, Sask. Polytech and the universities of Regina and Saskatchewan are all following guidance from the government of Saskatchewan.

CBC News asked the Ministry of Advanced Education Tuesday to comment on the work being done to combat the spread of COVID-19 at all post-secondary institutions in Saskatchewan.

"Institutions are continually assessing the pandemic situation to determine what measures will best support a healthy and safe environment for students and staff at their facilities," the ministry said in an emailed statement.

"The Ministry of Advanced Education continues to work with the sector to ensure the health and safety of students and encourages everyone to get vaccinated."

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