Sask. preparing to welcome students back to classrooms

The Government of Saskatchewan is welcoming students back to classrooms for the 2021-22 school year.

Minister of Education Dustin Duncan and representatives from the Regina Catholic School Division held an event in Regina on Tuesday, to kick of the school year.

"We are excited to Welcome Back students to a more regular school year for 2021-22," Education Minister Dustin Duncan said.

"Schools are safe places and an important part of the mental health and development of our kids. We are looking forward to seeing students and staff get back to the joy and fun of learning after the summer break."

In a release, the province said safety is “top of mind” for this school year.

“The ministries of Health and Education continue to have regular communication with all provincial school divisions to support appropriate local decisions to enable education to continue as safely as possible,” the release states.

“High community vaccine uptake continues to be key to protecting children under 12 who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.”

School begins for most students on Sept. 1.

Masks will be mandatory in select areas of some Saskatchewan schools this year, due to guidelines enacted by individual school divisions.

Vicky Bonnell, chair of the Regina Catholic School Division’s Board of Trustees, said this the rules for the fall are not bothersome to their students.

“They’re really glad to be going back and starting what they think is a normal school year and that’s what we want for them,” said Bonnell.

Students will also once again be greeted with hand washing, disinfecting and cleaning protocols.

The government updated its guidance on mask use and other COVID-19 protocols on August 20, recommending children under the age of 12 and unvaccinated teachers and support staff wear masks in Saskatchewan schools.

SELF-TESTING PILOT PROGRAM

The government announced it is launching a COVID-19 self-testing pilot program in a small selection of Saskatchewan schools.

In a release Tuesday, the province said COVID-19 self testing rapid antigen kits will be provided to families with students under age 12.

A total of 24 schools will be included in the pilot program.

"[The schools] were determined in consultation with school divisions and with the medical health officers from around the province based on a number of factors," Duncan said. 

The government said the schools will be selected based on a variety of factors, including vaccination coverage, active cases, hospitalizations and school outbreaks.

“With the resumption of in-class learning, parents with eligible children in participating schools will receive notification from those schools on receiving testing kits,” the province said in a release.

The program won’t be ready to welcome the kids back to school, but the Saskatchewan School Board Association is happy to wait.

“It’s nice to have a couple days breather at the start before we get going on those sort of things,” Shawn Davidson, president of the school board association, said.

The province said the self-tests are effective in screening people who may be COVID-19 positive, however, positive antigen tests should always be confirmed with a lab-based PCR test.

Duncan said more information on the program, and its roll out, will be available in the coming days.