Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen is reiterating that school this fall will not look normal.
One of the biggest changes due to the presence of COVID-19, he says, will be the recommended use of masks for students and staff. Masks are not required in the classroom.
In compliance with public health advice, Goertzen "strongly recommends" that students in grades 5 to 12, school staff, and others in schools wear non-medical masks in common areas and where physical distancing of two metres is not possible.
He says younger students can also use non-medical masks if they or their parents or caregivers so choose.
Furthermore, bus drivers and any bus-riding student in Grade Five or higher will be required to wear non-medical masks while on the school bus. Masks are required to be put on before loading and taken off after off-loading. Goertzen says those who are unable to remove face coverings without assistance or by those with breathing difficulties will not be required to wear a mask on school busses.
“The safety and health of students and staff, and their families, are the priority as Manitoba returns to in-class learning,” notes 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 province will provide masks to school divisions for distribution, as well as other personal protective equipment as needed to ensure safe and healthy schools.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says these protocols are fully consistent with provincial Public Health and Health Canada guidance.
“Officials worked closely with Manitoba Education and are confident this plan balances the safety of students with the importance of returning to classroom learning,” he explains.
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.
As Roussin indicates, school communities will be notified when a student at their school is a confirmed case, once close contacts have been identified. The closure of a school would be a last resort and only with evidence of transmission among multiple groups of students or staff.
All school divisions in Manitoba are being asked to post their individual plans during the week of August 7th.
Each division’s plan will outline procedures for following Public Health orders and guidelines, for addressing the mental health and well-being of the school community, and for communicating information to students, staff, and families.
“The goal of the Restoring Safe Schools plan is to maximize in-class learning while maintaining a focus on safety,” stresses Goertzen. “Parents and students need to know there is a process in place in the event students become ill and how their safety will be maintained.”
The province says they will be working closely with Public Health, education stakeholders, school divisions, independent schools, parents, caregivers and students to ensure consistent, timely and responsive information, and to act on issues as they arise.