Steinbach MLA and Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced that the Manitoba government is releasing practice guidance and protocols to ensure students, teachers and families know what to expect upon returning to classrooms in September and to provide consistency across schools.
“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 protocols include additional Public Health advice regarding the use of masks at schools. It is strongly recommended 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. Younger students can also use non-medical masks if they or their parents or caregivers so choose. Non-medical masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove one without assistance or by those with breathing difficulties.
All students in Grade 5 and up, and bus drivers, will be required to wear non-medical masks on school buses. Masks should be put on before loading and taken off after off-loading.
The province will provide masks to school divisions for distribution to students and staff, as well as other personal protective equipment to ensure safe and healthy schools, Goertzen noted.
Manitoba Education’s Practice Guidance and Protocols for Restoring Safe Schools has been prepared in response to school division and independent school planning for the return to classroom learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protocols are fully consistent with provincial Public Health and Health Canada guidance.
“Public Health officials worked closely with Manitoba Education and are confident this plan balances the safety of students with the importance of returning to classroom learning,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer. “As always, the simplest and most effective prevention measures are staying home when sick, practising proper hand hygiene, covering your cough, and not sharing items with others.”
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.
School divisions will post their individual plans during the week of Aug. 17 for the return to schools and the plans will be linked to the Manitoba Education website. 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,” said 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 will work 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.
The EngageMB website at engagemb.ca will remain the best forum for parents, caregivers and students to post questions for response throughout the return to classroom learning. In addition, a telephone town hall for parents, caregivers and students is scheduled for Aug. 18 with Roussin and Goertzen.