Back to School, Pandemic-Style

By Don Norman

For the first time since March, area kids will be heading back to school next month.

The province, through Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen, released the detailed for the back to school plan on August 13.

“The safety and health of students and staff, and their families, are the priority as Manitoba returns to in-class learning,” said Goertzen. “These protocols, in accordance with Public Health advice, will be implemented by all school divisions as part of the Manitoba government’s detailed guidance.”

The August 13 announcement protocols only strongly recommended the use of masks, only making it mandatory on school buses. However, on August 19, “out of an abundance of caution,” Premier Palister changed his tune on masks and made them mandatory in the classroom as well.

“We are committed to keeping our students safe as they return to school during this challenging and unprecedented time,” said Pallister. “We have listened to the concerns of parents, teachers, administrators, staff and students, and we believe that greater clarity and confidence is necessary for the safe return to school this fall. We are taking these additional measures to ensure the health and well-being of our children, as they are our most precious resource.”

With the updated guidance, masks will be required for students in grades 4 to 12, teachers, school staff and visitors when physical distancing of two metres is not possible at school. Parents and caregivers will continue to choose whether younger students should wear a mask. Further guidance on exceptions will be available soon regarding specific mask-free time and for those not recommended to wear a mask.

All students in Grade 4 and up and bus drivers will also be required to wear non-medical masks on school buses. Masks should be put on before loading and taken off after off-loading.

Should a case of COVID-19 occur at a school, Public Health will work closely with school administrators to identify close contacts, notify them and advise them to self-isolate. The areas of a school where exposures took place will be cleaned and disinfected, and these areas will not be used until it is determined safe to do so. School communities will be notified when a student at their school is a confirmed case, once close contacts have been identified. A closure of a school would be a last resort and only with evidence of transmission among multiple groups of students or staff, Roussin noted.

On August 14, Sunrise School Division sent a letter to parents outlining the specifics of their plans, noting that students will return to in-class learning beginning on September 8th.

The school division’s plans are lengthy and can be viewed on the SSD website. But some highlights include:

  • Schools will be enforcing strict hand hygiene rules
  • Schools will organize students into cohorts that will avoid interactions with other cohorts.
  • Physical distancing will be practiced by keeping 2 metres apart if not in an identified cohort and 1 metre apart if in a designated cohort.
  • Transportation will only be available for eligible students at this time as students must sit one per seat unless from the same household or same classroom cohort.
  • Students must bring their own lunches and will be reminded that sharing food or water bottles is not allowed.
  • Water fountains will not be available for use, but water refill stations will remain operational.
  • Field trips, assemblies and other large events will not be scheduled unless public health requirements can be met.

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