WINNIPEG — Students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 will return to the classroom full-time in Manitoba on September 7.
The province’s back-to-school plan was released on Thursday, providing a preview of what students, staff and parents can expect in the fall amid the ongoing pandemic.
Students in K-6 will continue to be grouped into cohorts to begin the year, while students in Grades 7-12 won’t be placed into cohorts.
Mask use will be recommended for students and staff, but won’t be a requirement. However, education officials say they will review public health guidance on masks closer to the start of the school year.
In a continuation of last school year, recesses and lunch breaks will continue to be staggered, and assigned seating on school buses will remain to help with social distancing and contact tracing.
Assemblies and events can take place, but public health measures must be followed.
The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, has said the aim is to make going back to school as normal as possible with the pandemic continuing.
Manitoba’s COVID-19 case counts have been dropping sharply in recent weeks and the province has loosened its public health restrictions.
Starting Saturday, mask-wearing will be suggested but no longer required by the province in many indoor public areas.
“Right now, we’re seeing very low community transmission (and) we have higher vaccine rates,” said Roussin
“It’s very important to get the kids back into school in as much a normal fashion as possible.”
Roussin added masks may become mandatory if Manitoba’s COVID-19 numbers worsen. But some said he shouldn’t wait, given that experts expect another wave of the pandemic and kids under 12 are not eligible for vaccines.
“Lifting the mask mandate is dangerous and premature and unsafe,” Nathan Martindale, vice-president of the Manitoba Teachers Society, said.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew also criticized the Progressive Conservative government’s plan. He said allowing staff and students to be unmasked is an unnecessary risk.
“Having mask requirements in schools would make sense this fall, given what we know about the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant,” Kinew said.
The Manitoba School Boards Association said boards are wondering whether they can institute their own mask rules and what the legal ramifications of such a move would be.
“Those are all of the things we need to seek more information on,” association president Alan Campbell said.
— With files from The Canadian Press