Saskatchewan school divisions mandate masks, but parents say more needs to be done

In just a few weeks, Saskatchewan students will be heading back to class, but some are still concerned that the COVID-19 safety measures in place aren’t enough.

“I’m feeling nervous,” said Esmee Wasylynka, an upcoming Grade 12 student at Dr. Martin Leboldus High School in Regina.

“There is the school we have to worry about, but then there’s also a global pandemic that we have to worry about.”

Read more: Some Saskatchewan school divisions make masks mandatory

However, new guidelines are easing some of her stress.

The Regina Catholic School Division (RCSD) is just one of several school divisions mandating masks for all staff and students in grades 4 to 12.

Story continues below advertisement

Parents and visitors are required to follow the same guidelines.

This follows the Saskatchewan government’s Tuesday announcement which gives school divisions the option to enter level two of its Safe Schools Plan.

Wasylynka, however, questions if this is enough.

“At school it will be hard to do social distancing because you’re all crammed into one building,” she said.

“I know a lot of people my age, I don’t think they take it very seriously, so I’m not sure masks are just enough.”

Her mother agrees.

Katherine Wasylynka said mandating masks is a good first step, but she wants to see concrete plans on reduced class sizes and increased sanitation.

“They need to bring in more teachers and reduce class sizes in my opinion,” Katherine said.

“I don’t think it’s healthy to have such large classes and such high volumes of kids in the hallway at one time.”

Saskatchewan school procedures released for teachers, students who show coronavirus symptoms
Saskatchewan school procedures released for teachers, students who show coronavirus symptoms

On Tuesday, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer came out with updated directives for school divisions, which included limiting student numbers in cohorts and staggered class times and breaks when possible.

Story continues below advertisement

But for high schools where cohorts are more complex, the province suggests divisions find “creative solutions.”

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

“It just seems like they’re putting everything together last minute in a bit of a rush,” Katheine said.

“I would have liked to have seen more planning and I would like to see the province have more input.”

Other parents like Chelsea Snow are also surprised there isn’t more direction on social distancing and staggered classes.

Read more: ‘Divisive conversation’: Saskatchewan premier understands back-to-school worries

Snow has four school-aged children going back to school in RCSD this fall. From her kids’ experiences, she said masks aren’t an effective option for everyone.

“(Kids) are going to shove (masks) in their mouths, they’re going to play with them. I’ve seen my kids make funny faces by pushing the masks in and then it’s contaminated,” Snow said.

Snow’s son has ADHD. She said it will be hard for him to keep a mask on all day.

“I know there are other kids that have other disabilities that might affect that,” she said.

“The children with hearing problems or even the parents or teachers that read lips, how is that going to work for them?”

Story continues below advertisement

According to its website, RCSD recognizes some people won’t be able to wear masks. Those requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Patrick Maze, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president, said he wants the province to issue clear, consistent directives to all 27 school divisions.

With only weeks left before the new school year, Maze said he worries divisions will make decisions based on budgets and convenience.

“If it’s just optional some might say, ‘well let’s wait and see what happens,’ and that’s not the response we want to hear,” Maze told Global News on Tuesday.

According to Maze, social distancing should be a high priority for the province as many schools face overcrowding.

“Blocked time tabling is a solution to that and it should be a strong directive from the ministry and from the chief medical health officer,” he said.

The Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians is also expressing disappointment with the province’s back-to-school guidelines.

Read more: Coronavirus: Cowessess First Nation releases back-to-school plan

The college’s president-elect, Dr. Myles Deutscher, said the plan to return as close to normal as possible offers little protection to students.

Story continues below advertisement

The college is calling for a consistent mask mandate in all schools starting in September.

“Level 1 gives the least amount of protection and we would like to see a more stringent return to school,” Deutscher said.

“Masking has been proven when worn continuously to be the best form of protection from the spread against any droplet virus, including COVID.”

According to Deutscher, most of the college’s members would rather see more stringent measures taken at the start of the year, with the ability to scare back if needed.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.