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Horizon School Division
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March 16, 2020 - a message from Kevin C. Garinger, Director of Education

March 16, 2020

Unprecedented. It's the right word. And it's a word that we are becoming all too familiar with using. It has most definitely been an "unprecedented" week in Horizon, in Saskatchewan, in Canada, and in our World. The Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation (STF) announcing job sanctions was significant enough news for much more than a week but the developing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has nearly overwhelmed us with the amount of new information and updates affecting the regular business of our students, staff, schools, and communities. In the course of this very unusual week, I cannot overstate how much I have appreciated the patience and understanding of our families and staff as we relay the information that we receive; information that ultimately affects each one of us. 

For your review, here is a link to our latest updates on Horizon’s response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In addition, we have been in communication with staff regarding updates to the province’s travel restrictions, and will be requiring all staff returning from out-of-country travel to adhere to a 14-day self-quarantine, as per the Chief Medical Health Officer of Saskatchewan’s order pursuant to Section 45 of The Public Health Act.

We are also requiring families who are returning from out-of-country travel to follow the same precautions and the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine. As well, if a child or parent is sick, I am requiring that their children stay home until they have confirmed that they are not infected. I cannot stress enough how important it is that each of us continues to practice social distancing, proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, avoiding large crowds, and washing hands regularly with soap and warm water, including the use of hand sanitizers. Bus drivers, caretakers, and technology staff in our buildings have been instructed to follow protocols relating to cleaning commonly touched surfaces. As per my memo from March 13th, and until further notice, assemblies of more than 50 people, out-of-school community trips, community rental of school facilities (excluding playschools and daycare centres), non-parental classroom guests, and internal Horizon professional development opportunities have either had to be cancelled or postponed. We continue to take direction from the Ministries of Education and Health regarding further actions, such as the potential of school closures. Currently, 7 out of 10 provinces have decided to close schools in our country in the upcoming week or weeks while only BC, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland have not made the same decision. I know this is a difficult time for our Medical Health Office and I will certainly wait for a decision from Dr Shahab, the Chief Medical Health Officer (CMHO) related to a direction that aligns with the majority of provinces, if and when that occurs. I know that he is certainly very focused on ensuring the needs of students, parents, staff, and community members is taken into account in his decisions. 

On a related topic, I was provided with an article were Professor Nicholas Christakis, a physician and social scientist from Yale University, shared his beliefs on school closure. In looking back in history, he found that proactive school closures, such as the type that occurred in 1918 when the Spanish flu hit the United States, have been proven to work to reduce the spread of the virus. He states, “Proactive school closures – closing schools before there’s a case there – have been shown to be one of the most powerful nonpharmaceutical interventions we can employ” (Couzin-Frankel, March 2020). The fact is, no one knows what the best decision is given there are currently no cases confirmed or presumptive in Horizon communities. The plan provided to us from Dr Shahab (CMHO) around social distancing, self-monitoring, self-isolating, hand washing, and sanitizing makes great sense as a starting place and I know will continue to be reviewed daily and even hourly in order to protect the citizens of our province. I certainly thank the entire health system in Saskatchewan including our government for stepping up efforts to communicate and to provide this necessary direction.

In the midst of this global pandemic, we certainly do not forget about our latest memo regarding STF job sanctions. I wanted to share the reminder that these sanctions affect the beginning and end of the school day. Please refer to your school’s start time and end time and we continue to remind parents that they should ensure their children do not arrive more than 15 minutes prior to the school day and are prepared to leave within 15 minutes of the end of the school day.

Responding to both these challenges has required a strong community response from people across the province, country, and the world working in collaboration for the good of one another and our neighbours. I feel very fortunate that our Horizon family is full of so many caring, thoughtful, and conscientious people.

Last Monday, I met with Day Star First Nation Chief and Council. I appreciated their time and the discussions we shared. Monday was also the day that STF sanctions were announced, so part of my day required work to share information with our families and staff, and to enact contingency plans to respond, where needed.

On Tuesday, I started the day with an agenda meeting that included our Board Chair, Mr. Jim Hack and our Vice-Chair, Linda Mattock, as well as members of my staff. We set our agenda and discussed items that will be brought to the Board for further discussion at their upcoming March meeting. The meeting didn’t take long and I was able to turn my attention to my central office staff in order to share our current contingency plans. Following the planning meeting, I met with my Director’s Leadership Team to continue discussions regarding STF job sanctions.

On Wednesday, I travelled to Bruno School, where they hosted students from 11 Horizon schools for a Youth Summit on mental health. Counsellors Carla Jule and Erika Charette were the organizers of the event and I want to congratulate them as well as Bruno principal, Lianne Borstmayer as their work led to a great day of sharing and caring for our students. That afternoon, my Job Action Committee, including our Central Office Admin Team (COAT), met to discuss the latest developments in STF job sanctions and contingency planning for the potential of further sanctions.

Following personnel-related work in Wynyard and Foam Lake on Thursday morning, I returned to the office for a meeting with Gerard Frison, teacher at William Derby School and President of the Horizon Teachers’ Association (HTA). I value our open and honest relationship that is certainly reflective of the relationship Horizon holds with its teachers. Gerard has always been passionate as a teacher, going above and beyond to support the needs of students so it is not surprising that he exhibits this same passion in supporting the collective interests of our teachers in Horizon. That day, we also issued Horizon’s first memo regarding COVID-19 for all families and staff, and I joined a provincial teleconference on the topic of the pandemic.

Friday was a bizarre day for several reasons, with information coming in quickly regarding the pandemic. We worked to institute and communicate a number of actions and restrictions – all of which I’ve both shared and are available on the homepage of our website – and are relating to our COVID-19 response. I also called an emergency meeting of my Director’s Leadership Team of principals, vice principals, and admin staff to discuss these matters. As this situation develops, my Board will continue to expect that updates are provided to all stakeholders as soon as possible. So as we wind up the bizarre, I will leave you with two reminders: the resources and information available on saskatchewan.ca/coronavirus; and this quote that reminds us that even though we are fearing the unknown and struggle with decisions that are made or not made, together we can be brave and that bravery overcomes fear. As the legendary author of The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho states, “And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.”

Have a great week, everyone. Wash your hands, use coughing etiquette, practice social distancing, and please be safe.

- Kevin

Kevin C. Garinger, B.Ed., M.A.Ed.
Director of Education/CEO
Horizon School Division No. 205
kevin.garinger@horizonsd.ca