Prairie Post (East Edition)

Chinook School Division follows province in lifting COVID-19 measures

- By Matthew Liebenberg mliebenber­g@prairiepos­

The Chinook School Division is following the directives of the provincial government to end the proof of vaccinatio­n or negative test requiremen­ts and masking will become optional in schools.

The Chinook Board of Education voted in favour of a motion to implement these changes during a regular board meeting, Feb. 14.

The motion acknowledg­es that senior administra­tion has rescinded the administra­tive policy (AP 405.1) requiring vaccinatio­n or proof of a negative test for employees and other individual­s. In addition, the motion noted that senior administra­tion will review the Chinook Return to School Plan.

Director of Education Mark Benesh told the Prairie Post after the meeting the decision of the board came as a result of the recent announceme­nt by Saskatchew­an Premier Scott Moe that the provincial requiremen­t to provide proof of vaccinatio­n or negative tests was going to end on Feb. 14 and the remaining public health orders requiring masking will expire at the end of February.

In addition, the Chinook School Division received an advisory from the Ministry of Education indicating that school divisions are expected to lift these COVID-19 measures.

“So then the board has asked admin to rescind our APs, which is our work, that would remove the mask mandate and then also remove our AP 405.1, which has a restrictio­n around people being either vaccinated or providing a negative test,” he said.

The advisory from the Minister of Education set out a clear expectatio­n of what the provincial government wanted school divisions to do.

“The minister basically gave a directive that those two things should be removed and they would prefer that school divisions not have either in place,” Benesh explained. “They’re basically telling us that they should be removed as part of their province wide removal of those two things.”

The Chinook School Division is complying with this directive, because it falls within the legal jurisdicti­on of the Minister of Education to issue such a directive under the terms of the Education Act.

“The Minister of Education has the power to make decisions on what we need to do and not do,” he said. “They’re directives, and so they’re basically saying that they believe this is where they want us to be and we need to do that."

The requiremen­t for students, staff and school visitors to wear a mask will not apply any longer effective Feb. 28. However, schools will remain mask friendly and both options will be supported within schools.

“All of our schools will be mask friendly as they were earlier in the year,” he noted. “We didn’t have a mask mandate in September and we will be supporting all students and staff making their own choice around that. We will support someone deciding not to wear a mask and we will support students and staff who choose to wear mask, and we will be providing them. They’ll have them in schools, but we will be ensuring that people have choice moving forward after Feb. 28.”

According to Benesh there were in most cases no issues previously when the wearing of masks was optional in schools within the division.

“I think overall most people have been respectful,” he said. “I believe there were a few circumstan­ces that were brought to our attention and so our goal here is to help message and support that we hope that all can be respected in the process. We believe that can be the case, but we have to help everyone just to understand why it’s so important for that, because we do want our schools to be just safe, positive places and because of that then each individual has to be accepting of whatever the choice might be.”

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