Sask. teachers union says isolation exemption for schoolmates of COVID-positive students is 'illogical'

·3 min read
Unvaccinated school-age children who are close contacts to a positive case of COVID-19 don't have to self-isolate, as long as they have no symptoms and wear a face covering, according to the province. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Unvaccinated school-age children who are close contacts to a positive case of COVID-19 don't have to self-isolate, as long as they have no symptoms and wear a face covering, according to the province. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The union representing Saskatchewan teachers is concerned about the province's public health order that exempts schoolmates of COVID-positive students from self-isolating.

The province released a new public health order on Sept. 17 saying unvaccinated school-age children, from day care to high school, are exempt from having to isolate if they are a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case as long as they have no symptoms and wear a face covering.

That means they can attend classes and ride a school bus even if they are considered a close contact.

However, they can't participate in extracurricular activities for 14 days following contact.

If a student is fully vaccinated, asymptomatic and deemed to be a close contact, they have to monitor for symptoms but can attend school and participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.

Saskatchewan schools have seen dozens of COVID cases since school started. Some students at Regina's Henry Janzen elementary school have had to return to remote learning until Oct. 1.

Patrick Maze, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF), said the rules around isolation in schools are "illogical," and difficult to follow and enforce.

"I've heard from a number of parents who are frustrated," Maze said. "They're trying to keep their kids safe and have at the start [of the school year] been considering online learning and keeping their kids at home because they're worried about safety."

Maze said all students who have been exposed to COVID-19 should stay home.

Pediatrician Dr. Ayisha Kurji agrees, noting that the isolation exemption could increase the risk of potential transmission of COVID-19.

"We know with COVID, you can spread it even without having symptoms. So monitoring for symptoms and then deciding to stay home when you do get symptoms, you miss that window where people who are asymptomatic, can still be spreading it."

The province's public health order says the student exemption is a way to "reduce the societal burden associated with parental or guardian absence from work and to ensure children can continue in-person learning."

Call for more teacher representation in government decisions

On Friday STF presidents, who represent the union's 13,500 members across the province, unanimously passed a motion calling on the provincial government to immediately reinstate the Education Sector Response Planning Team (RPT).

This team was formed after the province declared a state of emergency at the beginning of the pandemic. It had representatives from school boards and the teachers' union and met frequently to express concerns from teachers about the province's COVID response in schools, according to Maze.

STF has sent a letter to the government formally requesting that it bring back the RPT.

With Saskatchewan setting new COVID case and hospitalization records, Maze said teachers "need to have a voice with the decisions" made by the provincial government.

"Without it, we end up with strange situations like this exemption from self-isolation for school-age children."

CBC News reached out to the provincial government regarding the response planning team and isolation exemption for students.

In an email, government relations spokesperson Matthew Glover said, "This year's approach is based on prioritizing the importance of maintaining in-class learning and high vaccination rates of community members, staff and students who are 12+."

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