School divisions bring in new masking measures; ECS moves to Level 3 in pandemic response plan

The new guidelines brought forward by the provincial government on Friday, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will have an impact on local schools, and the two school divisions in the southeast had already taken some pro-active measures.  

High schools with an enrolment of more than 600 students will have to move to Level 3 in the pandemic response, which means a combination of in-person and virtual learning.

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Cornerstone had announced Thursday that the Weyburn Comprehensive School would move to Level 3 after a student at WCS tested positive for COVID-19. The move took effect Monday.

Level 3 involves a combination of in-person learning and virtual sessions.

Due to Friday’s new restrictions, the Estevan Comprehensive School also moved to Level 3. The school was closed Monday to help it prepare for the change, and then Level 3 took effect on Tuesday.

Lynn Little, the director of education for South East Cornerstone, said the division has been preparing for this change during the school year.

“They know what will happen when we go to a Level 3, if it’s required, so when we learned on Friday that all schools over 600 (would go to Level 3), it was recommended, we were in a space where we were ready to move forward,” said Little.

With the change at ECS, Little is confident that the students will be able to get their learning, even though 50 per cent of the course will need to be accomplished at home.

Students with last names A-L were in the building on Tuesday, and students with last names starting with M-Z were working independently at home. They will alternate each day from there.

In the interest of balancing some class sizes, a small number of students will be asked to attend with the other group. Homeroom teachers were to notify students and parents if this is the case.

Assigned independent work and practice will be provided for days that students are at home, and those assignments expected to be completed prior to the next class. To ensure success and achievement for all students, it is important for children to be engaged in and completing the work assigned for out-of-class days. 

School division technology will not be loaned out during Level 3.

ECS will remain at Level 3 at least until Christmas break on Dec. 18.

South East Cornerstone had announced on Thursday that masks would be mandatory for Grade 4-8 students when in classrooms.

“Grade 4-8 students have been wearing masks in high-density areas – that would be places like boot rooms and hallways, as well as on buses, and they have been doing that since the beginning of the year,” said Little.

Grade 9-12 students were already wearing them in classes.

Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 still won’t have to wear masks, although mask wearing will be encouraged for Grade 3s in split grade classrooms with Grade 4s.

“It will depend a little bit on the situation in that classroom and in that school as well, with how they work that out in terms of the number children in the classroom,” said Little.

Some school divisions have implemented a pre-kindergarten to Grade 3 mask mandate, but Cornerstone hasn’t mandated it yet.

The Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division announced Friday that masks would be required for students in Grades 4-9 in its classrooms and elsewhere in the school buildings, starting Monday.

Gwen Keith, the director of education for the school division, said they would have proceeded with the mask mandate regardless of what the province announced Friday.

Keith said they decided to take the step because of the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan. Holy Family has been in consultation with South East Cornerstone, and the two divisions want to be as consistent as possible.

“Obviously we’re autonomous boards, but we want to just move through this pandemic as cautiously and carefully with our parents and our staff to create some clear directions, as much as we can, and still maintain our autonomy,” said Keith.

Holy Family does not have a high school, but it does have Grade 9 students at its school in Weyburn, which is why Grade 9 students were included in their mask policy.

The separate school division has yet to have a case in any of its schools, she said, but the division has been practising and preparing for COVID cases since last March.

“We don’t see the pandemic as something’s that going to be gone in the near future,” said Keith.
The provincial government was scheduled to announce additional COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday. You can visit www.estevanmercury.ca for more information.

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