In-school classes to resume Sept. 8 in Manitoba, plans include social distancing, remote learning

Pencils, books and dirty looks will be back in Manitoba Sept. 8, according to a provincial government plan announced July 30.

In-class learning for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 is planned to restart across Manitoba following the suspension of in-person classes last spring due to COVID-19. Provincial guidelines for the restart were unveiled in a July 30 news conference, with provincial education minister Kelvin Goertzen fielding questions on the new plan.

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"All students in all schools and all grades will be back to in-class learning. It will resume for all students," said Goertzen in the news conference.

Under the new plan, classes will be full-time for students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 and for special needs students in all grades. For high school students, Goertzen said some classes may need to be held remotely.  Schools will need to make their own arrangements to maintain social distancing, along with cleaning and hand sanitizing. Some classes may be organized in cohorts - groups of more than one class kept apart from other groups. How classes will be cohorted will be up to the discretion of school boards.

Mask use for students, teachers and staff will not be mandatory under the current plan, unlike a similar education plan announced by Ontario earlier July 30. There, masks will be mandatory for students from Grades 4-12.

"There are a number of new steps that are being taken to ensure the health of students and staff and to ensure that schools can be 'COVID-ready' in case a case arises in a school," said Goertzen, who said many steps were also taken when schools were reopened in June for limited use.

School divisions and schools will be tasked with following the guidelines and creating plans by the middle of August. The province also announced $48 million in spending to help schools be "COVID-ready" for September - throughout Manitoba, the funding averages out to between $60,000 and $70,000 per school.

When asked during the press conference if the funding proves to be insufficient for some school's needs, Goertzen added more personal protective equipment could be purchased, but did not mention any specific equipment or measures for school staff.

"We feel comfortable with where we are with the level of PPE and it's availability in the province up to this point and we're continuing to look for other forms of PPE that may be more of a challenge down the road," said Goertzen.

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