'The situation in Saskatoon is perilous': As variant COVID-19 cases climb, teachers' union calls for remote learning

The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) wants Saskatoon and area schools to move to remote learning effective Monday.

"The situation in Saskatoon is perilous. We urge Saskatoon Public, Saskatoon Catholic and Prairie Spirit school divisions to take action now," STF President Patrick Maze said in a news release.

"Schools are a source of transmission and there are numerous outbreaks in Saskatoon and area schools. We don't have to wait for more schools to be impacted. A move to remote learning is one measure we can take to help protect people's lives."

The STF had requested on March 31 for all schools in the province to move to remote learning for two weeks after the Easter break to reduce COVID-19 transmission.

Maze says he recognizes no teachers, staff or parents want to move online and that it’s disruptive but it’s important to be proactive in order to keep people safe.

“We know it’s out there. Let's quit fooling ourselves that we can kind of play chicken with this and we’ll wait till the last minute and then we’ll take evasive measures. It’s too late by then,” Maze told CTV News.

But University of Saskatchewan student Hanna Sullivan wants elementary and high school students to stay in class. She started a petition to keep schools open when she saw her high school sister Samantha struggling with at-home learning.

“She is struggling so bad, when she’s home I’m trying to help her the best I can and I’m trying to do the learning and I know she struggles. She’s the type of person that needs in-person learning because there’s only so much I can help her with,” Sullivan told CTV News.

Sullivan’s sister says if schools were to go completely remote again, she might consider not continuing her senior year.

While Sullivan does support quarantining for two weeks if a case is detected, she doesn’t think all schools should have to move to remote learning.

“I don’t think online learning should be the complete future, I think it should be an option. I don’t think it should be forced on you.”

In an email to CTV News, Greater Catholic Saskatoon Schools (GCSS) says it does not plan to switch to online learning, except for classes that are self-isolating.

The school division has 13 active cases, six of which are VOCs. In comparison to almost 20,000 students and 2,000 staff, GCSS says it “appears” that the shift to Level 4 for the entire school division is not warranted.

“The problem with this view of ‘It’s only one case, we can isolate and move one class to online’, that’s what they tried to do in Prince Albert, that’s what they tried to do in Moose Jaw and we saw the drastic dire consequences of losing two staff members in those communities,” Maze said.

Saskatoon Public Schools says in consultation with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), it makes changes as needed. If the SHA warrants it, the school division says it will move to Level 4 and remote learning.

Maze said it's not a “responsible” decision to keep schools open as rapid tests aren’t in schools to detect where cases are coming from.

“Why would we wait until we experience what Regina experienced and have our health system collapse?”

The STF cited provincial government data showing that between March 29 and April 11, test positivity increased to 7.3 per cent from five per cent among Saskatoon children and youth - a 46 per cent increase.

The data also show that in the first three weeks of April total active COVID-19 cases have increased in Saskatoon by 128 per cent, to 513 cases from 224.