Schools move to community notices for COVID-19 cases

·3 min read

Classroom COVID-19 mandates may be gone, but public health warnings for school communities are here to stay.

Two weeks before the end of the school year, the first since 2019 without remote learning and virus restrictions, families at École George McDowell received a cautionary notice about rising case counts.

“This notification is to advise the school community of increased COVID-19 cases and respiratory disease activity… within the past 14 days. All students and staff in the school should self-monitor for symptoms, and avoid non-essential contact with individuals at higher risk of developing severe disease,” states the June 16 letter.

Seventeen students were absent from the Louis Riel School Division on Friday because they either had symptoms of the virus, had tested positive for it, or were following public health-directed isolation due to an exposure, according to a table that draws on caregiver reports.

Dashboard data show six of those students — 35 per cent of the total — attend the French milieu school in River Park South.

The recent letter states the middle school is focused on preventative measures, including postponing group and extra-curricular activities and encouraging mask use, during an undisclosed monitoring period “to reduce the risk of further transmission.”

“What I want families to know is that we’re still focused on the pandemic. We haven’t lost our focus. It’s not our only focus, but it’s still very much a focus,” said Christian Michalik, superintendent of LRSD.

Michalik said school leaders have been advised to continue working with local public health units when they observe higher-than-usual absenteeism rates or receive a notable number of employee and family disclosures about positive cases.

Public health has supplied schools with template letters that are tweaked based on experts’ recommendations, he said.

Seven school communities — including Winnipeg’s Maples Met School, Luxton School, Garden Grove School, École Belmont, and École Viscount Alexander, as well as École Communautaire Gilbert-Rosset in Saint Claude — have received a COVID-19 notice since March 15.

Provincial officials have not, however, recommended any class or school switch to remote learning since virtually every novel coronavirus measure was lifted and masking became optional.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Education indicated so-called COVID-19 “community notification letters” — which are similar to the alerts issued when there is a lice problem in a K-12 building — are now a standard practice.

“As with any other communicable disease, public health will continue to work with schools and child-care facilities when (COVID-19) concerns arise,” they wrote in an email.

“Manitoba Education and Early Childhood Learning will continue to align with public health recommendations.”

Michalik said much reflection will occur throughout the summer as education leaders prepare for 2022-23.

“As we hopefully move from a pandemic to an endemic, we will need to — each of us, as school divisions — take the time to understand what we’ve been through,” said the superintendent.

In LRSD, educators will engage school teams to determine whether to continue making public both general and COVID-19-related absenteeism data.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press

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