Despite new COVID-19 protocol restrictions placed on part of Manitoba this week, school opening will go ahead as scheduled on Sept. 8 - with a few changes and some new money in school divisions’ pockets.
When Prairie Mountain Health (PMH) region continued to lead in numbers of COVID-19 cases, the region was coded as Orange, meaning: community transmission is occurring but the health system is still able to manage COVID-19 case levels.
That designation came into effect Monday, Aug 24, restricting gatherings to 10 and requiring face masks to be worn. (Businesses, churches and schools continue to operate under the pre-existing plans.)
Code Orange doesn’t apply to schools says Superintendent of Fort La Bosse School Division, Barry Pitz. Under the schools’ Level 1 opening, masks are mandatory for students in grades 4-12 when physical distancing is not possible.
However, Pitz says, “We, as a division are strongly recommending that Grades 4-12 students and staff wear masks all the time. Outside is a ‘mask free zone’ for all students to play and learn. Masks are mandatory on the bus for grades 4-12.”
He’s also anticipating greater absenteeism because students and staff that are not feeling well, even with mild symptoms, should not attend school.
“The substitute teacher pool will continue to be an issue as it always has,” says Pitz. “We hope to perhaps utilize student teachers and other staff on a need-bases.”
As for the money, schools will have an additional $52 million on top of the savings identified due to an early school closing last spring.
Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Monday, “We asked the school divisions to hold on to those savings, knowing that in fall there is going to be a need for them.”
In total, school divisions saved $48 million that can be used for safety protocols. Premier Pallister’s government added an additional $52 million on top of those savings, bringing the return to school fund to $100 million.
Protective equipment such as face masks and cleaning supplies have already been purchased for FLB schools.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Trudeau announced another $2 billion toward safe school opening throughout Canada, translating into an additional $70,000 for FLB division.
First on the wish list for the division – a furnace/ventilation replacement for Virden’s K-Gr. 4 Goulter . “It has been on the books to replace for some time,” said Pitz. The $70,000 will be a stepping stone toward a much larger amount required. The chief administrator will be looking to government for further funds to accomplish this.