Regina Public high schools moving online ahead of final exams as COVID-19 cases rise

The Regina Public School Division is preparing to temporarily move all of its high schools to remote learning.

All Regina high school classes will go online from Jan. 20 to Jan. 24, according to a letter sent out to parents.

The move is an effort to reduce the risk of high school students missing their scheduled final assessments, which are set to start Jan. 25.

Final assessments may be in-school or remote, as determined by the requirement of the class and the teachers’ discretion.

On Monday, director of education Greg Enion sent out a letter to parents highlighting the continued challenges COVID-19 is placing on schools and staff.

Last week, there were 526 self-reported positive COVID-19 cases in Regina Public Schools, with 53 of those cases being in staff. Seven classrooms had moved to remote learning.

“School operations have been strained as teaching, administrative and facilities staff have had to cover for absent colleagues,” Enion said in the letter.

“At the same time, the availability of substitute staff, for both teaching and support, have also been in very short supply.”

Enion is warning parents that changes to in-class learning may be made “on short notice” and families should be prepared for the contingency of remote learning.

Meanwhile, Regina Catholic Schools are making finals optional, according to a post on Michael A. Riffel Catholic High School’s website.

If students cannot attend their final exams due to COVID, their grade will be based on their completed course work. If their final exam drops their mark, it will not be counted.

School divisions across the province are reporting similar volumes of COVID-19 cases in classrooms.

Between Jan. 10 and Jan. 16, Prairie Valley School Division (PVSD) reported 212 positive rapid test results.

“We are in contact with public health several times a day,” said PVSD spokesperson Ian Hanna.

There are 39 schools in PVSD with 8,900 students. Hanna said COVID-19 has impacted all but three or four schools in the division.

On Tuesday, outbreaks were declared at Indian Head High School and Greenall School in Balgonie.

Effective Jan. 19, Indian Head High School will be transitioning to online learning until Feb. 1.

The Greater Saskatoon Catholic School Division has temporarily moved a “handful” of classrooms to remote learning, according to its communication consultant Derrick Kunz.

Last week, 799 staff and students self-reported positive test results to the division.

Kunz said there are some staffing challenges, as teachers, education assistants and administrative staff get sick. He said if substitutes are not available, schools are finding ways to shuffle staff around. However, “some pockets are seeing strain.”

Saskatoon Public Schools are posting similar case numbers. Last week, 605 students and staff self-reported positive results. As of Tuesday, seven classrooms and two schools in that division were operating remotely.

According to Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, about one quarter of COVID transmission happens in the classroom.

Dr. Saqib Shahab said in-class learning is important for students, and proper masks, vaccinations and physical distancing over the lunch hour can make a big difference.

“We should certainly try to go to school. If you test positive, stay home,” Shahab said.

“But minimize our non-essential after-school and after-work contacts as much as possible to minimize disruptions either at school or work.”

According to the Ministry of Education, there are no additional resources being offered to schools on top of what was given last year.

Kevin Gabel, executive director of the programs branch in the ministry of education, said $150 million was allocated to Saskatchewan schools last year to help with the COVID-19 response and implementation of remote learning. Gabel said $35.9 million of that funding is specifically to support increased costs during this school year.

According to Gabel, all schools work directly with their local medical health officers when deciding to move classrooms online. The government continues to make in-class learning a priority.

“In-class learning is the best way forward due to the mental health of students,” said Gabel, adding school divisions are doing an “admirable” job finding solutions.

“One school division is redeploying some of their high school staff to the elementary schools now that they’ve gone online.”