Saskatchewan Teachers Federation has concerns about schools staying open amid pandemic

Saskatchewan Teachers Federation Patrick Maze says the organization has concerns about the decision to keep schools in the province open, but will defer to the advice of Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer.

The province announced on Sunday that schools would stay open during the global COVID-19 pandemic for now.

"At this point, with the number of cases that we have and the fact that they're all travel-related, we really don't think that there's any reason to close schools anywhere in the province at this time," Dr. Shahab said Sunday in Regina.

"If there is a reason to close a school locally, that can happen but there's no reason to do that right now."

There is one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Sask. with another five presumptive cases awaiting results. Shahab said the government will consider school closures if necessary and when the time comes.

Do your part

Davita Brian says she plans to keep five of her children who attend school in Saskatoon at home for the time being. Brian thinks Saskatchewan needs to follow other provinces, such as Alberta and Ontario, who have announced school closures to slow the spread of the virus.

"I'd rather have healthy kids than sick kids," Brian said. "People aren't taking it serious."

Brian said younger children don't wash their hands often or cover coughs and sneezes.

Brian's family will do their part by not attending birthday parties and other crowded events.

Balfour Collegiate student Ella Reichert, 15, does not believe leaving schools open is the appropriate decision to make and outlined her concerns in an email to government officials.

"In between classes, there's a lot of movement in the hallways and a lot of people but not much personal space," Reichert said. 

She thinks students crowding hallways could further contribute to the spread of the virus, which could have a bigger impact on students with compromised immune systems. Balfour Collegiate has about 900 students enrolled.

"Ideally, I'd like to see school cancelled for a while, at least, until the government can better contain the virus and reduce the spread," Reichert said. 

Concerns extend beyond the classroom

Maze said Shahab should be hearing from teachers and members of the STF as the plans being made by the province affect them, too. 

"We have members who have their own health concerns, are at times immunocompromised, and who have family members who are going through health concerns," Maze said Sunday. 

"Certainly, we don't want to be transmitting it back to family members."

Maze said in a school like Campbell Collegiate in Regina, where there are about 1,700 students, that it would be "very difficult" for schools to manage timetables.

"It would probably make sense to take a pause on the school day for a few days and get those issues sorted out," Maze added. "Lots of concerns and we're not hearing a lot of answers so we're trying to be patient."

Bryan Eneas/CBC

Shahab said the government website is keeping numbers up-to-date and has a self-assessment tool for people to use, if they think they may need testing.

NDP says not 'if' but 'when'

NDP Leader Ryan Meili said in a statement released Sunday that it is not a case of if schools close, but when.

The party used the statement to call on the government to provide supports for people working in schools in the event of self-isolation or a full-blown school closure. 

"We're calling on the government to do everything they can to minimize and mitigate the risks in schools today, and to prepare all necessary supports for eventual closure," said Meili, who is also a medical doctor.

That action can be taken in the form of ensuring schools have adequate cleaning supplies and staffing levels, that any staff who need to isolate do so without using up sick days and "providing accommodations" for families who choose to keep children at home.

The NDP is also calling for wage supports for caregivers who miss work due to school closures, assurance that teachers, support staff and daycare workers will be paid if there is a shut down and supports in place for students who rely on school meals to eat.