Manitoba's Back To School Plan

Back To School Plan

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government has released its safe return plan for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students to classrooms on Sept. 7, Education Minister Cliff Cullen announced today.

“We are pleased to have all students and staff returning to full-time in class learning, while continuing to follow recommended public health fundamentals,” said Cullen. “We know that students learn best in the classroom and the return to school plan will help to ensure schools stay open and adjust with additional measures, as needed, to address changes in local community or school situations.”

Students and school staff will be expected to continue to follow the ”COVID-safe” basics, such as self-screening, hand hygiene and staying home when sick. Masks are recommended for all students, staff and visitors. Masks and personal protective equipment will be provided to schools. Public health officials will continue to monitor data and local conditions closely. All guidance will be reviewed before the start of the school year and on an ongoing basis.

“After 18 months of facing the global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic together, Manitoba is on the road to reopening, including schools with near normal operations,” said Cullen. “Children returning to full-time in-person learning is another example of a transition to a post-pandemic Manitoba and a closer return to normal life.”

While it is expected that COVID-19 infections will continue to occur in the community as well as in schools, COVID-19 cases and severe illness have declined significantly due to most people 12 years and older being vaccinated for COVID-19, particularly parents and caregivers of school-aged children. When most people 12 years and older are immunized, exposures in schools are less likely to lead to further transmission. As a result, schools will be able to return to close to normal activities in September, with some health and safety measures still in place. Notification of cases in schools will continue and the public dashboard will resume in September.

“I support this reopening school plan,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer. “Studies show that children are less likely to transmit COVID-19 while at home, in school or in community settings, and they are at lower risk of severe illness from COVID-19. There are significant benefits to their learning and overall well-being from the in-person interaction and extracurricular activities they get at school. The strong determination of Manitobans has helped limit the spread of the virus. This has resulted in a reduction in overall case numbers, community transmission and test positivity rates. The strain on our health care system continues to decline as vaccination rates continue to increase.”

The 2021-22 school year will focus on addressing the mental health and well-being of students and the education workforce, ensuring supports for students with special needs, as well as addressing the learning impacts from the pandemic.

As part of the province’s plan to ensure the health and wellness of students, a renewed focus on immunizations for school-aged youth will also launch this fall. Currently, about two-thirds of those aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about 52 per cent have received both doses. Immunization teams will attend all schools with students aged 12 to 17 to provide first and second doses, beginning in areas with lower vaccine uptake, to help reduce potential barriers to immunization. Planning is also underway for a school-based campaign for children aged five to 11, once the COVID-19 vaccines are approved for use. School-based clinics will be one of many options available to students and their parents to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Vaccine appointments, community based pop-ups, medical clinics and pharmacies will continue to be options into the school year.

Public health and education officials are also putting plans in place to ensure young people can catch up on important immunizations that may have been delayed due to the pandemic, such as HPV, hepatitis B, meningococcal disease and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Additional details will be shared with parents, students and school communities as soon as possible.

Public health officials are also recommending changes to cohort sizes for child care facilities. Cohort sizes will increase from 30 to 48 children, plus staff. In addition, physical distancing within a cohort is no longer required, however it is strongly recommended that the same staff work exclusively with the same cohort. Sharing staff across cohorts should be avoided to the greatest extent possible. A revised Coronavirus (COVID-19) Early Learning and Child Care Practice Guidance document with technical information will be distributed within the next few weeks to reflect the new public health directives.

Schools will use student assessments to further understand and address the impacts of COVID-19 on learning and plans to hold stakeholder engagements to develop supports to improve the mental health and well-being of students and staff. This will build on $2.5 million in student mental health investments made last year, over and above the allocations to school divisions. Another $58 million is dedicated to supporting Safe Schools, including a $5 million fund that has been provided to school divisions over the summer and at the start of the year to assess and address learning impacts because of the pandemic.

Funds dedicated to helping and protecting students include:
• $40 million for additional staffing, learning and technology, and health and safety;
• $6 million for masks and personal protective equipment;
• $5 million for the Kindergarten to Grade 8 Remote Learning Support Centre for students who are immunocompromised; and
• $2 million in contingency funding.

TOPICS:   Manitoba News

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