COVID-19: Manitoba’s return to school plans still in the works, details ‘a couple weeks’ away

Click to play video: 'Awaiting Manitoba’s back-to-school plan' Awaiting Manitoba’s back-to-school plan
Awaiting Manitoba’s back-to-school plan – Jul 26, 2021

A return to school is fast approaching, and it has Manitoban parents and students wondering what they should expect.

With a little more than a month before school bells ring, officials say the details are still being worked out.

For Chandra Bolianaz, who has two kids in elementary school in Winnipeg, the concern isn’t with safety, but a general lack of communication about what to expect — particularly with a potential fourth wave of COVID-19 looming.

“I think a more consistent, well-organized message needs to come from the top, because we haven’t gotten that the last two shutdowns,” Bolianaz said.

“We need some sort of a plan. It can’t just be, ‘We’ll see what happens if it gets shut down,’ because that hasn’t worked the last two times.”

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Read more: University of Manitoba planning full return to campus for winter term

Bolianaz says she understands why there was confusion during the sudden first shift to remote learning in March 2020, but she was expecting a more thorough plan by the time the second one came.

“I’m really worried that now we’re going to have this happen for a third time and it’s going to be just as disorganized and the kids are going to fall further behind than they are now,” Bolianaz said.

The plan Bolianaz is hoping for may be on its way, but not for a few more weeks.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Cliff Cullen says they’re consulting with Public Health on recommendations and to expect the details in a couple weeks.

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said as much during a press conference Monday, adding there’s still a bit of uncertainty.

Read more: Manitoba divisions complete air system upgrades as new school year looms

“We don’t know exactly what this respiratory virus will look like. We have a strong likelihood of a resurgence of the typical respiratory pathogens we see, and we know that COVID is still going to be circulating, especially amongst the unvaccinated,” Dr. Roussin said.

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“So we’re going to have to have plans that are flexible. But what we do know is we want to do whatever we can to get the kids back to school and keep them in school with as much normalcy as possible.”

The doctor declined to go into details about what will be included in the plan other than to say they’re “looking at different scenarios,” and are working with partners at a national level.

Meantime, the president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, Bill Campbell, says “all indications” from government and health officials is that the return to school will look much the same as it did last fall.

Read more: Manitoba launches website to fight ‘misinformation’ around plans to rework school system

“That means we would have the same co-horting requirements, all the same hand sanitizing and hand washing and surface sanitization requirements that we had,” Campbell told Global News Monday.

“Physical distancing would be in place, and of course staff and students would be required to be wearing masks in the same way as they were at the start of last year.

“Schools are safe, they continue to be safe places for learning, and in cases where transmission perhaps makes it unsafe, the school divisions are prepared to move to remote learning as required.”

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For now, that leaves Bolianaz and the rest of the province’s parents in a state of wait-and-see.

“A bit more information would be really helpful for people right now trying to make plans,” Bolianaz said.

“A lot of people are returning to work in September, they want to know what school is going to look like for when they have to go back to work. It’s a big concern for parents.”

Click to play video: 'School divisions in Manitoba make changes to air filtration' School divisions in Manitoba make changes to air filtration
School divisions in Manitoba make changes to air filtration – Jul 21, 2021

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