Winnipeg school divisions prepare for increased COVID-19 restrictions amid spike in cases

Winnipeg school divisions are preparing for heightened COVID-19 restrictions slated to start Monday while novel coronavirus cases continue to spike in Manitoba’s capital.

Schools in Manitoba’s north will also see increased restrictions as of Monday.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Thursday the new rules coming to schools will include increased physical distancing — up to two metres from one, to the greatest extent possible. Roussin advised schools to adjust classroom space as necessary, to remove classroom furniture and repurpose other spaces within schools.

The Winnipeg School Division — the city’s largest — said it will be able to achieve that physical distancing directive, in part because its high schools are operating with a blended learning model — both remote and in-class.

Blended learning (in-class and online) for grades 9 to 12 where distancing cannot be achieved will continue as per the status quo.

“In our elementary, nursery to Grade 8 levels, our schools are looking at everything they can do to make sure that they have that two-metre distance and for many of them that means removing any extra furniture and looking at rooms they might be able to repurpose — of course, we’ve done that already, that’s been done since the beginning of September,” said WSD’s spokesperson Radean Carter in a phone interview.

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Pembina Trails School Divison students will also see less furniture when the restrictions hit.

“I wasn’t entirely surprised, we’ve been encouraged and advised by the province to be prepared for this eventuality,” said Pembina Trails superintendent Ted Franzen.

Meanwhile, extracurricular activities are only permitted if all learning and distancing requirements have been met. If these activities continue, established guidelines must be followed and, in the case of sports, participants should maintain distance when not active.

Teachers and staff who move across cohorts of students, including substitute teachers, are required to wear medical masks. Medical-grade disposable masks have been issued to all schools, but N95 masks are not required.

Indoor choir and the use of wind instruments are not permitted.

All field trips must be postponed or cancelled.

Kindergarten to Grade 8 students may be offered a temporary remote learning option for the duration of the heightened restrictions.

Franzen said he’s unsure of how many parents might want to use that option — so the division will conduct a survey next week.

— With files from Global’s Shane Gibson

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