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Province Delays In-Person Classes By One Week

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In response to the escalating surge of COVID-19 cases in the province, the provincial government announced on January 4 that in-person classes would be further delayed.

The first delay was announced late last year, pushing the start of class to January 10. Classes will still begin that day, but most students in Manitoba will study remotely. Currently, the plan is for all students to return to the classroom on January 17.

According to Premier Heather Stefanson, this is a proactive measure to give schools time to address staffing shortages and develop plans to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the school setting.

The one-week remote learning period will also allow schools time to prepare to move to the Restricted (Orange) level on Manitoba’s Pandemic Response System.

“Our government’s number one priority is to protect the health and well-being of all Manitobans, especially our children, youth and most vulnerable citizens,” and Stefanson. “Today we are announcing a slight adjustment for the return to classes to give schools additional time to implement enhanced protocols to ensure in-person learning for all students can continue under our pandemic plans and to give public health more time to learn about the omicron variant’s effects in Manitoba. We know our children learn best in a classroom setting and it is our goal to ensure they can return to the classroom as quickly as possible.”

However, some students will be allowed to return to school on January 10, including students of critical service workers in Kindergarten to Grade Six, as well as all high-risk students and students with special learning needs in Kindergarten to Grade 12, assuming that no alternate care is available.

Childcare facilities that offer 12 months of service, including centres in schools, will remain open and are encouraged to prioritize children of critical service workers. School-age child-care facilities that operate based on the school calendar and do not provide service during school breaks will offer services to children of critical service workers requiring before- and after-school care.

The province adds that licensed centres and childcare homes will soon be able to apply for additional funding support to offset the loss of parent fees.

“We know in-person learning is best for students, but we are still learning about how the omicron variant will affect our healthcare system and Manitobans in the longer term,” says Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer. “This change will allow us more time to study the data we have and provide any needed additional advice to the education sector and families as we go forward.”

Minister of Education Cliff Cullen also mentioned several enhanced measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools. These will be expanded in the coming days:

• distributing 500,000 rapid tests to all schools for students from kindergarten to Grade 6 and planning to expand access to rapid tests for all Manitobans as the rapid testing kit supply increases in Manitoba, particularly for schools with high case counts of COVID-19.
• requiring medical masks for all staff during this high transmission period and allowing students to wear a well-fitting mask with at least three layers and schools to provide masks for students if needed. Manitoba will be distributing at least five million more child and adult medical masks over the next eight weeks to increase supply in schools and support increased demand.

Minister Cullen added that schools across Manitoba are continuing to implement enhanced ventilation projects in accordance with provincial ventilation guidelines for schools.

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