St. James-Assiniboia School Division buys reusable masks for older students

BC students are preparing for a return-to-school this month.
BC students are preparing for a return-to-school this month. Getty Images

The St. James Assiniboia School Division has purchased masks for all staff and older students as part of the division’s upcoming plan to handle education in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trustee Nicole Bowering posted on social media Wednesday that the division has bought masks for every middle and high school student.

“FYI: SJASD has purchased 2 reusable face masks for each student in middle years and senior years,” she wrote.

“Students are recommended to wear face masks during the school day if physical distancing is not possible. More information on the back to school plan will be shared with all families August 17, 2020.”

Read more: Coronavirus: All Manitoba students to head back to classrooms this fall, says education minister

Mike Wake, the school division’s superintendent, told Global News the move is meant to make the school environment as safe as possible.

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“One thing that school should be about is giving choice,” Wake said.

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“If we can give people choices to feel safer, that’s great, and I think that’s a success in itself.”

The school division also purchased face shields for all staff.

“I feel it’s important that our little people see those facial expressions from our adults, the smiles … the engagement,” Wake said.

The division appears to be the first in Manitoba to purchase face coverings for staff and students if social distancing can’t be achieved in schools.

Alan Campbell, the president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, said the move is being considered elsewhere.

“My understanding in speaking with other boards across the province is that most divisions are considering the prospect of acquiring masks for students and staff on the basis that this may be coming down the line from public health,” Campbell said.

Read more: Manitoba’s back-to-school plans garnering mixed reaction from parents

The province announced the plan for students heading back to school last week, saying the new school year will begin Sept. 8.

Under the plan, classroom learning will be full-time for students in Kindergarten through Grade 8 and for special-needs students in all grades, with five days of instruction per week.

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The province says remote learning may be required for students in Grades 9-12, depending on whether their high schools are able to implement necessary public health measures including physical distancing.

When asked about making masks in schools mandatory on Thursday, provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said to expect more information in the near future.

Read more: Canada to release mask guidelines for children, recommend them for kids aged 10+

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, said Tuesday that the federal government will be releasing mask guidelines for children returning to school by Friday.

But she did tell reporters the guidelines will recommend face coverings for kids aged 10 and up.

“The recommendations will undergo evolution as the evidence changes and we’ll also have to see what happens as we understand transmission in different age groups and what happens in schools,” Tam said.

“We may have to adapt this recommendation as we go along.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Should kids under the age of 10 wear masks?' Coronavirus: Should kids under the age of 10 wear masks?
Coronavirus: Should kids under the age of 10 wear masks?

The plan to send Manitoba children back to school in September garnered a mixed reaction from parents.

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The Manitoba Association of Parent Councils says it needs more information, adding the plans don’t address everyone.

“We want more information. What happens if a parent is not comfortable with sending their child back to school?”

— With files from Marney Blunt, Shane Gibson and Emerald Bensadoun.