by Phil Ambroziak

School’s out for… a while.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a premature “summer” holiday for students throughout the province, as Monday morning (March 16) saw the Government of Saskatchewan announce all classes in pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools are suspended indefinitely, effective tomorrow (March 20).

“The Government of Saskatchewan outlined new measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” noted Northwest School Division director of education Duane Hauk in a recent letter to parents. “Over the coming days, our division will work with the Ministry of Education to make plans to implement education supports and opportunities for students during the closure. At this time, we do not know what the programming will look like.”

Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 classes used this week to wind down, while the schools themselves will be officially closed as of Friday and will remain closed to students until further notice. All students will receive a final grade based on their current grade, and they will progress to their next grade level come the 2020-21 school year. Meanwhile, all students eligible to graduate from Grade 12 this year will do so, and the Ministry of Education and school divisions say they will work with post-secondary institutions to adapt entry requirements for programs commencing in the next academic year.

“We know this is a time of uncertainty for our communities,” Hauk continued. “We strongly encourage families to follow the federal and provincial guidelines for social distancing and limiting interactions.”

The unanticipated early closure also means, as of the end of this week, Dorintosh Central School has officially closed its doors to students forever. The school was scheduled to close at the end of the current school year because of an ongoing trend of diminished enrolment numbers. That closure has now come earlier than expected.

Late Monday it was also confirmed North West College would be postponing its programming until next Monday (March 23) at the earliest.

“We’re postponing all our classes for the remainder of this week and using this time to look at alternate delivery methods in terms of how we can continue our programming starting Monday,” explained North West College president and CEO Jay Notay. “We’re looking at things on a program by program basis.”

One option, Notay added, could be to offer online programming which will allow students to complete the programs they are currently enrolled in.

“Things are changing one day to the next,” he said. But, our goal is to try to minimize the fear in people and to focus on the safety of our students and staff during this very stressful time. We don’t have all the answers today.”

Additionally, while not school-sanctioned trips themselves, a number of Meadow Lake and area youth were planning to take in two upcoming trips, one to Quebec and another to Scotland and Ireland. These trips were also recently called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“EF Educational Tours (the group organizing the trips) has postponed its tours,” explained teacher Cheryl Stobbe, who was planning to accompany local students to Scotland and Ireland this spring. “The postponement of the trip has been disappointing for all travellers, but we remain hopeful we will be able to travel at a future date. The safety of our travellers has been, and will remain, the priority.”

The aforementioned school-related measures apply to daycares that are co-located with schools, but do not apply to licensed daycare facilities outside of schools.

Officials are currently examining options to provide childcare services for individuals who are providing essential services during the COVID-19 response.