Schools opened up this week in Flin Flon and with a new school year comes a new set of reopening guidelines.
In Manitoba, schools will start the year at a “yellow” level under the province’s pandemic response system, meaning they’ll start the year at a similar level of restrictions to last year. The “yellow” classification is set out because, in the view of Manitoba public health officials, COVID-19 spread is “at low to moderate levels” but household transmission and close contact transmission “is still occurring in Manitoba”, with community transmission considered to be either low or localized.
As part of the rules, all four schools in the Flin Flon School Division (FFSD) will require masks for all students from Kindergarten-Grade 12, along with masks for all staff and visitors, while indoors. As of August 6, provincial rules allow for masks to be taken off while outside and for students and staff to take “mask breaks”, but only while distanced by at least two metres from each other. Kids sharing toys and items is all good as long as everyone regularly washes or sanitizes their hands.
Cohorts will be used for all FFSD students from Kindergarten-Grade 6, as per provincial guidelines. Both Ecole McIssac School and Ruth Betts Community School, both Kindergarten-Grade 8 schools, will also effectively group their junior high classes together, forming a group of Grade 7 and 8 students. The change is due to students’ age - since no COVID-19 vaccines are currently approved for use for children younger than age 12 (with the exception of 11-year-olds who will turn 12 by New Years’), no students in Grade 6 or younger are eligible to be vaccinated. Students in junior high, however, are eligible to receive both first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses and can therefore intermix, regardless of cohorts.
Other rules regard promoting social distancing whenever possible, including using one-way flow hallways, reducing crowding in common areas and using staggered start and dismissal times. For instance, three different class start and dismissal times will be used at Ecole McIsaac School, ranging from 8:45 a.m.-8:55 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.-11:50 a.m. and from 1:05 p.m.-1:15 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.-4 p.m.
“Schools should encourage physical distancing to the greatest extent possible. Schools will manage the flow of people in common areas, including hallways and washrooms, to minimize crowding and allow for the ease of people passing through. Schools will continue the practice of staggered entrance and exit times, or use separate entrances (if feasible),” reads the province’s plan.
Band programs are back on the agenda, with wind instruments and singing allowed both indoors and outdoors. As a result, band programs within the FFSD are able to go ahead, including Hapnot Collegiate’s choir, jazz band and others at McIsaac and Ruth Betts.
Extracurricular events, like sports and school clubs, can go forward, but overnight trips are not yet cleared. Visitors will be allowed in schools, as long as they follow all current recommendations, and community use of schools will be allowed again, with final sign-off from local school divisions.
The current slate of rules and restrictions can change if COVID-19 cases worsen or improve.
Hapnot Collegiate will not include any cohorting of students, with the main and north stairwell doors able to be used as entrances and exits. Unlike last year, parts of the school will not be blocked off according to cohorts. Students at the school are expected to attend classes in person, instead of distance or remote learning.
In Creighton, Creighton Community School is back to class, with an in-school plan based on review with local medical officers of health. Masks are still required to be worn within the elementary school side of the building and are required to be worn in common areas of the high school, but masks can be taken off in high school classrooms at teachers' discretion.
The school will keep on extra cleaning staff for this year with the same cleaning protocols and the school day will stay on the same structure as it was last year. All regular sports and fitness activities are authorized to continue, along with extracurriculars and field trips - as long as all relevant COVID-19 health orders are met for wherever students go.