A vocal group of 40 concerned citizens turned out to the Safe Schools for Saskatchewan rally hosted in downtown Swift Current on Friday, August 7 in front of Swift Current MLA Everett Hindley’s office.
A series of speakers took turns at the microphone to share their objections to Saskatchewan’s Safe Schools Plan which was released on Tuesday, August 4.
Swift Current rally organizer Andrea McCrimmon said the Safe Schools Plan missed the mark.
“People who I’ve talked to feel overwhelmingly that the province’s safe school’s plan is inadequate and dangerous,” she said on Friday, noting specific concerns that the plan only reacts to COVID outbreaks after they have occurred instead of being a proactive strategy.
She shared that her other plan shortcomings include no reduction in class sizes, no dedicated funding, no mandatory masking policies, no on-site testing, plus a lack of triggers in moving from one level of precautions to another.
“30 kids in small classrooms, without the ability to social distance, is a recipe for disaster.”
She argued that SaskParty funding of education has resulted in fewer classroom supports, with fewer Educational Assistants, and cuts to other supports. Now teachers and schools are expected to follow all enhanced safety protocols despite these reductions.
“But teachers are also expected to clean classrooms, manage kids, teach kids, and hopefully not get COVID.”
Kristen Simonson, who oversees the Outdoor Education Club at the Swift Current Comprehensive High School, drew a direct comparison between the extensive measures they take before each of their outdoor education trips and the lower level of work put into the return to school strategy.
For 21 years she has helped run outdoor education programs in three different school divisions, with a top focus on keeping students safe while participating in these events. She shared that these Outdoor Education trips have take students to volcanoes, tops of mountains, oceans, the Arctic, and white water rivers. She is often asked how does she deal with risk.
“The answer is simple. We plan. Preparation for Outdoor Education trips like these take months or even years, there’s simply too much at stake to get it wrong.”
In drawing a direct comparison between the meticulous outdoor education trip planning and the Saskatchewan Safe Schools Plan, she highlighted that planning on her trips involve extensive research, choosing the best options for the conditions that exist, and purchase the proper gear.
“And we discuss any safety concerns. Somebody goes on a trial run, we don’t send anyone in blind. We have the experience before we go, not as we go.”
“In the end, as a leader, it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone is safe. These are my expectations, so meet them or don’t come. We have a saying, it’s not your trip it’s our trip. One unprepared or selfish person can ruin it for everyone.”
Simonson feels that her own trip planning is far more advanced that the return to school strategy during a pandemic as outlined by the provincial government.
“Schools are going on an adventure. Everyone is invited. And there are no prerequisites to coming along. We leave in three weeks. No one has been there but the planners assure us that it’s safe. The itinerary is vague and it lacks detail. There’s distance disapproval from many of the participants but we’re going anyway. The decision has been made. Basic safety conditions will not be met in this destination, even though they will be met when we buy our groceries and gas our vehicles.”
“It will most likely be crowded. Social distancing at six feet is unreasonable. Close contact, in fact normalcy is encouraged. And it will be closed off. If we don’t like it go outside. There is no time for training. But don’t worry. Enjoy your summer. If there’s a need we’ll adapt as we go.”
“I don’t want to go under these conditions. I don’t feel an expert has planned this trip. I don’t feel like we know where we’re going or if I have the right gear packed. I am not confident that we’re headed in the right direction because no one has ever been there, and we’re going in blind. I’m worried we’re bringing along individuals who don’t take safety seriously, and you consider established safety protocol like masks an over reaction. One unprepared or selfish person can ruin it for everyone, remember?”
worried do not have the funding for the enhanced cleaning, protocol or reducing staff sizes.”
“I feel like this trip has been planned for the wrong reasons, and that doesn’t include staff or student well being. And when, and if we return home, I worry that this trip will effect my husband, our business, my kids, my mom, my colleagues, my students and their families,” she said to applause.
“I am phased by this lack of a plan to return to schools because it directly goes against every aspect of risk management that has governed my program and kept thousands of kids safe under my care for 21 years.”
She said that ensuring six feet distancing, moving ahead with reduced class size, and proper ventilation in all classrooms is not too much to ask for the safety of staff and students.
“Government of Saskatchewan this trip is not approved. It lacks detail and preparation. You need to do better and you have a very short window to make that happen.”
Additional speakers shared their views on schools opening for mental health reasons, concerns over social distancing when school returns, asking what specifically is being done to make staff and students safe in the school, along with worries about a lack of protections in place for kids with health issues.
Stefan Rumpel, the Saskatchewan NDP candidate in the Swift Current Constituency, highlighted his concerns that the SaskParty underfunding of education has caused problems within the education system which are being exposed by COVID-19.
“Instead of leading, Scott Moe and (Education Minister) Gord Wyant are leaving school divisions and staff to struggle to make things as safe as possible without clear guidelines or a single extra dollar,” he said during the rally.
“They point to the money saved by school divisions during the shutdown, money which we know of necessity is already earmarked for crumbling infrastructure, ventilation and other projects that have been ignored for years.”
Rumpel touted the NDP school re-opening strategy which was built during consultations with parents, school staff, and health professionals.
“It’s a seven-point plan to open schools safely. Smaller class sizes, guidelines on masks based on what we’re seeing in other provinces, immediate increase in funding for September, fixing our COVID testing that’s lagging behind the national average, and having clear thresholds for moving to different phases.”
Hindley attended the 30 minute rally and told the crowd their perspectives were appreciated.
“This is timely. I appreciate your feedback as the MLA. Actually we’ve got a caucus meeting next week where we’ll be discussing this and a number of other issues obviously. It’s important to hear from people locally, and that’s why I’m appreciative of this turnout here today,” Hindley said on Friday.
He commented he had been taking notes during the meeting, has been following feedback on social media, and is speaking to people on both sides of the back to school plan who have been contacting him directly via email and phoning his office.
“This is important feedback we can have. I’ll take this feedback to Regina. I’ll speak to Minister Wyant and the Premier and follow cabinet members and colleagues in our caucus and make sure that those concerns are heard.”