The Manitoba government has committed $52 million in new funding to help school divisions welcome students back during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced the one-time funding Monday, which comes on top of $48 million school divisions saved during the spring when schools were closed, and which can now be used.
Goertzen said all divisions across the province will have access the cash, called the Safe Schools fund, and the money will be doled out on a per-student basis. Some of the money will be held in reserve in case its needed to respond to emergencies, he added.
“This additional investment in our education system will support our Restoring Safe Schools plan to help ensure our schools remain a safe, familiar place for our students and staff,” said Goertzen in a government release.
“We know that our education system needs to be ready to deal with today’s pandemic reality as students and staff return to the classroom, and our government is delivering the financial support to help school divisions meet that need.”
Some of the funding will be used to provide non-medical and medical masks and personal protective equipment for students, teachers and staff.
Premier Brian Pallister made a surprise announcement last week, mandating masks for all students in grades 4 to 12 in schools starting in September.
The province had previously refused to mandate masks, instead saying it preferred to “strongly recommend” them.
Pallister said the change came after listening to “thousands” of parents on the issue.
A few weeks ago, Manitoba’s education minister and chief medical officer of health unveiled the government’s practice guidelines and protocols around the return to school, slated for Sept. 8, but each division was given until last week to post their individual plans for reopening.
Pallister said the province would pay for the cost of schools’ masks.
Goertzen said the pot of money announced Monday will also be used to hire more custodial staff and increase cleaning at schools, increase bus capacity, add routes and hire more drivers, and to make sure substitute teachers and educational staff are available to keep schools open.
He said more than 4.7 million masks have already been delivered to school divisions across the province with more mask deliveries planned throughout the school year.
“We thank our teachers, students and staff for taking on the extra challenges associated with making classrooms safe under the new constraints of COVID-19,” said Goertzen in the government’s release.
“The province will continue to work closely with public health, education stakeholders, school divisions, independent schools, parents, caregivers and students as part of its response to COVID-19 and a safe return to school.”
The Opposition New Democrats have called on the government to cap class sizes at 15 students and set up more classrooms, in order to ensure proper physical distancing.
Over the weekend, Manitoba saw two record-breaking days for coronavirus cases, including 42 on Saturday and 72 on Sunday.
Manitoba’s total number of lab-confirmed positive cases identified since March sat at 944 as of Sunday.
There are 356 active cases in Manitoba, 576 individuals have recovered, and 12 have died from COVID-19, health officials said Sunday.
–With files from the Canadian Press
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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