First masks, now vaccines: school boards prepare for class

·2 min read

The universal adoption of mask mandates in city school divisions has paved the way for what appears to be the next public health trend — requiring teachers, educational assistants and other school staff to be fully immunized against COVID-19.

Following a meeting between superintendents, public health officials, and education department staff Tuesday, Winnipeg-area divisions started to announce they would go above and beyond provincial back-to-school guidelines.

Manitoba’s plan for the 2021-22 academic year favours recommendations over requirements, when it comes to masking, vaccination and physical distancing. The education minister, however, has indicated the province will not stand in the way of divisions that choose to enact mandates.

Seven Oaks, Louis Riel, St. James Assiniboia, River East Transcona, Winnipeg, Pembina Trails and the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine all confirmed this week they would require K-12 students and staff to don face coverings in buildings and on school buses.

Seine River, which encompasses schools in St. Norbert, currently has no plan to mandate masks, although trustees will meet later this month to discuss divisional policies closer to Sept. 7, the first day of school.

Not unlike last year, mask breaks will continue to occur throughout the school day; for example, during lunchtime, recess and when physical distancing is deemed sufficient.

Also this week, superintendents started to publicly discuss intentions to mandate that employees receive two doses of COVID-19 vaccine to work in their respective schools.

Louis Riel was the first to announce Thursday it is slated to make immunization a requirement — a move that is supported by the local teachers association and the union that represents school support staff. Staff who have medical exemptions for vaccinations will be exempt from the policy.

Pembina Trails followed suit with a similar community update on Friday.

“The mandating of masks and vaccines follows our guiding principle that these health and safety issues are about kindness, respect, and responsibility,” states a letter signed by board chairwoman Kathleen McMillan and superintendent Ted Fransen.

Trustees in Manitoba’s largest division have confirmed to the Free Press the Winnipeg board’s intentions to discuss enacting a vaccine mandate for staff next week.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

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