Saskatchewan school boards are considering everything from student privacy to easy-to-clean “isolation room” furniture as they plan to care for pupils who become sick during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the province’s 27 school boards released their individual back-to-school plans after the Ministry of Education outlined eight broad safety goals that all schools will have to observe when students return to class in September. The plans do not include mandatory masks or smaller class sizes.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer, said his office would assess COVID-positive students “on a case by case basis.”
“If there was evidence that a child or a staff member was infectious while in school and there were specific children or adults who were close contacts, then appropriate public health advice will be given, which may include that close contacts will have to isolate for two weeks,” Shahab said.
Entire classrooms may not necessarily be deemed close contacts, he added.
Health officials had few details to offer about what specific steps front-line school workers will need to take before the health authority steps in to conduct contact tracing.
The Ministry of Education released a list of the back to school plans for all 27 school divisions on Wednesday afternoon.
Regina Catholic Schools plan goes deep
The plan from Regina Catholic Schools stands out because of how explicitly it lays out its procedure for temporarily quarantining a child confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19. Like all the school board plans, the Regina Catholic School board plan follows the general guidelines set out by the ministry.
Students are to be taken out of class to a separate isolation room until their parents can pick them up. Inside the room, the students will don a mask and be supervised by a staff member who, in addition to a mask, will wear a face shield and gloves while staying at least two metres away. Both child and supervisor will apply hand sanitizer going in and out of the room.
“Under no circumstances is the ill person to leave the room without the designated personnel accompanying them,” according to the Regina Catholic Schools plan. “If the student needs to leave the isolation room for any reason, the staff member will remove all PPE, wash hands, [put on] new PPE, and accompany the student out of the room.”
Parents will be asked to pick up their child promptly and call the 811 health line to have the student assessed.
Once the child leaves the school, “each isolation room will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.”
No plush furniture
The Regina Catholic Schools plan branches off into many other details, such as the type of furniture to be used in the isolation room (no plush, upholstered or hard-to-clean seats). Teachers are encouraged to keep a spare set of clothes at school in case they’re assigned to isolation guard duty.
“If the staff member’s clothing becomes soiled in any way, the clothing should be removed and placed in a plastic bag and laundered at home,” according to the plan, which goes on to be hyper-specific when it comes to the laundering process.
“The sealed bag is emptied directly into the washing machine without touching the soiled clothes. The plastic transport bag is then disposed in the garbage. Hand hygiene is performed.”
If more students became ill during the day than available isolation rooms, the school staff would do what they do best: problem solve on the fly.– Twylla West, Regina Catholic Schools spokesperson
Regina Catholic Schools is planning on two isolation rooms per school, with only one student allowed per room.
“If more students became ill during the day than available isolation rooms, the school staff would do what they do best: problem solve on the fly,” said spokesperson Twylla West. “It’s important we have those rooms available, but unreasonable to have a larger number of rooms available as we need the rest of our space for learning.”
Lloydminster Public School Division appears to be taking a different approach.
“The [isolation] room must have the capability to house more than one student,” according to its plan.
Like Regina Catholic Schools, however, Lloydminster is also fairly prescriptive about the decor of its isolation rooms.
“The room will need to be decluttered and all non-essential items to be removed to allow for ease of cleaning.”
Cleaning and supervisory procedures
School boards’ plans generally call for the wiping of all surfaces and items touched by the student in the classroom as well as surfaces in the isolation room once the student is picked up. Anything that can’t be cleaned or disinfected is to be put in a sealed container for at least three days.
The Prince Albert Catholic School Division cites paper, books and cardboard puzzles as examples of hard-to-clean, must-seal items.
Few of the plans specify exactly where the isolation rooms will be. Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division tells its teachers to expect office space to be repurposed as an isolation room. Creighton School Division No. 111 plans to escort quarantined children to an “isolated cubicle” inside the school’s main office.
Prairie South is asking schools scouting potential isolation rooms to “consider the privacy aspect.”
School staff are being asked to take special precautions with young children: supervising their application of hand sanitizer and avoiding contact with what the ministerial guidelines referred to as “respiratory secretions.”
“If the sick child is young and requires close contact and care, staff can continue to care for the child until the parent is able to pick up the child,” Prince Albert Catholic School Division advises.
Seating will be arranged so students are not facing each other.– Lloydminster Public School Division’s back-to-school plan
Prairie South Schools is planning to equip isolation room staff with a Rubbermaid “sick kid kit,” including gloves, masks, eye protection, hand sanitizer, garbage bags and disinfectant wipes.
“Ensure Sick Kid Kit is restocked regularly,” reads the division’s plan.
One school board, Northern Lights School Division No. 113, contemplates possibly transporting a sick child, but only “in consultation with the school superintendent, following guidelines of the chief medical health officer.”
Chinook School Division stipulates that infected staff and students can’t physically return to school until “they have medical clearance from SHA.”
Creighton School Division No. 111 says teachers should have two week’s worth of class plans “ready to go at any time in case of sickness and self-isolation.”
The next step: contact tracing
Contact tracing is the responsibility of provincial public health officials. Dr. Shahab said Saskatchewan’s “robust” investigation process will extend to any COVID-19 cases found in school.
Some school boards have specified things they’ll do to help that process.
Living Sky School Division will have teachers keep their class seating plans consistent “even if students move to another space in the school.”
“Seating plans are necessary,” the division’s plan reads. “If a case of COVID-19 is confirmed, knowing who was in close proximity to the sick student will be critical.”
Prairie South Schools will pay particular attention to the configuration of kids during playtime.
“Try to keep the same children together for many days in a row and keep track of who was with who,” its plan states. “This will help in contact tracing should someone get sick.”
Shahab said it’s important for students, especially younger children, to initially return to school in “as normal and reassuring an environment as possible.”
But plans for reconfiguring classrooms in the age of physical distancing indicate things will be anything but normal for some students.
Lloydminster Public School Division will arrange its classroom seating into rows, instead of semi-circles and groupings of four, according to its plan.
“Seating will be arranged so students are not facing each other.”
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