Winnipeg’s largest school division strongly encourages masks, says it can’t mandate them

By | August 17, 2020

Winnipeg’s largest school division will release its back-to-class plan later Monday, but a spokesperson told CBC News the strategy won’t waver much from the provincial health guidelines released last week.

The use of masks for students from grades 5 to 12 is “strongly encouraged” but not being mandated, Radean Carter said.

“We are not allowed to mandate that anybody wears them except for on school buses,” she said.

“It’s important to understand that mandating means that somebody’s going to go around and write you a ticket … if it becomes like public health law.”

Nevertheless, the Winnipeg School Division — which represents 78 schools with more than 32,000 students and more than 4,500 staff members — is urging people to mask up.

“Oh yes, we definitely want people to wear masks,” Carter said.

“I think what we’re going to have to see, especially in our schools, is that masks become like a pair of socks — you have to have one per day or two per day for some kids, morning and afternoon.”

She advises parents to get a stockpile of masks to switch them up each day and because kids will likely lose them. In those cases, schools will have some extras on hand.

Carter also stressed that parents need to be more strict about keeping kids with colds at home.

In the past, students would often go to school with runny noses and sneezing bursts. That can’t happen anymore, she said.

“We need you to keep your children home if they’re sick.”

Last week, the province announced its guidelines for going back to school, but left it up to individual divisions to design the details for their students.

Cohorts and classrooms

In the Winnipeg School Division, students from nursery to Grade 8 will have classes every day, five days per week. Recesses and lunches will be staggered so not all of the kids are out at the same time, Carter said.

Each school will set doors for entering and exiting, in order to limit contact that way as well, she said. Measures are being taken to meet a minimum one-metre distance between students in classrooms and, if possible, two metres.

Cohorts, groups of students that will be together throughout the school day and for the full week, will also be established. They will be in the same classroom, eat their lunches together and take recess together.

At the high school level, alternate-day attendance will be implemented as much as possible, Carter said.

“I can’t say across the board for everybody, because each high school’s looking at different options. They are all looking at every option available to them.”

The division won’t require teachers to instruct those in attendance in the classroom while also live streaming to those at home.

“We just don’t have the ability or the technology or, really, the desire to do that. It’s not really a good way of teaching,” Carter said.

Instead, those at home will work on something else and get the lesson when they return to the classroom.

“So it’s a lot of scheduling, is what’s happening at the high schools,” Carter said.

With COVID-19 cases spiking recently in Manitoba, people are understandably anxious about the start of school, but those who choose to keep their children at home will not be supported by the division, Carter said.

They will have to register for home-schooling through the province instead.

If it is an issue of the student or someone in the family being immunocompromised, that’s a different story. The division and school will work with them to come to some kind of accommodation, Carter said. 

Over the weekend, Manitoba announced 56 new COVID-19 cases and one more death.

The province has had a total of 697 cases since the first ones were detected in mid-March. Of those, 483 have recovered. 

There were 205 active cases on Sunday, including nine people in hospital — three of them in intensive care. 

There have been nine deaths related to COVID-19 in Manitoba.

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