The Saskatchewan government has pivoted its approach to the fight against COVID-19, and new rules around isolation have had a big impact on schools across the province.
Students will no longer receive COVID-19 exposure letters in classrooms, and parents do not have to notify schools if their child contracts COVID-19. Close contacts no longer have to self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status.
Those who contract COVID-19 should stay home and self-isolate for five days, regardless of their vaccination status. Parents are always required to notify the school if their child will be absent.
We spoke to the Director of Education for Prairie South School Division and Holy Trinity Catholic School Division about what these changes mean for in-person learning.
Ryan Boughen, director of education for the Prairie South School Division, says it was time to move on from contact tracing.
“It was a huge amount of work for our school administrators, administrative assistants and teachers. I think we’re lucky to be able to move on and focus on the work we’re doing,” says Boughen.
He says the workload would be worth it if there was evidence of impact, but it did not reduce the rate of transmission. Boughen says that especially after the new year, tracing the Omicron variant has disrupted schools.
Parents in both school divisions were being bombarded with emails and letters sent home about COVID-19 in schools. “We actually had to hire additional staff to keep pace with the work,” says Boughen.
Ward Strueby, director of education at Holy Trinity Catholic Schools, agreed that parent notification was time-consuming.
“We did a lot of the work in the division office just because we know our schools are busy with day-to-day work, but we were working most weekends and late nights to get these letters out,” says Strueby. . . He also notes that some families received five or six letters in one day.
Strueby says the reduction in isolation time is helping a lot with the staffing issues the division was facing. “We had a day this year where we had to bring in staff from the division office to cover some classrooms.”
Since the Christmas holidays, Holy Trinity Catholic School Division has recorded 245 positive cases of COVID-19, including staff and students. The division also had twice as many sick teachers in January compared to a normal month. “We had a day where we had to pull support staff out of the division office with teaching certificates, to go into classrooms and cover lessons,” says Strueby.
Boughen and Strueby reiterated that both divisions are working closely with public health to keep staff and students safe.