Part-time high school classes, no band or choir for students in Brandon, superintendent says

Part-time high school classes, plexiglass dividers for administrators, and cancelled band, choir and home economics courses are all part of the plan for when students return to school in Brandon, Man., next month.

Brandon School Division one of the province’s first to unveil back-to-school plan

Brandon School Division superintendent Marc Casavant at a news conference on Friday afternoon, next to the kind of plexiglass divider schools in the southwestern Manitoba city will have in their offices starting next month. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Part-time high school classes, plexiglass dividers for administrators and cancelled band, choir and home economics courses are all part of the plan for when students return to school in Brandon, Man., next month.

High school students will be split into two groups that will attend in-person class every other day — with names beginning with A though K together on one day, and those starting with L through Z the next, Brandon School Division superintendent Marc Casavant said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, kids from kindergarten to Grade 8 will return to in-person classes five days a week in small cohorts, he said.

But the plans for students in the southwestern Manitoba city — which is the site of one of the province's largest COVID-19 clusters, with at least 64 known cases — could still change based on advice from Manitoba health officials.

"Our plan is going to be fluid. There's going to be changes," Casavant said. "The success of our plan is going to be a reflection of the community."

High school teachers will create lesson plans for students based on the schedule laid out on Friday, with half the time dedicated to in-class instruction and the other half spent doing work that can be completed at home, he said. 

All students and staff in the division will have access to both non-medical and medical face masks when they need them, Casavant said, following the province's recommendation on Monday that masks be worn by students from grades 5 to 12 in common and crowded areas.

While students in Manitoba are not mandated to wear masks at school, Casavant said he's noticed an uptick in the number of young people in Brandon wearing them in recent weeks — a trend he hopes continues among students and staff when they're in class.

"Role modelling what the expectations are is certainly going to be high on my list, to be visible in the schools early in the school year, showing that we're wearing masks as well," he said.

Casavant said the division's plans could change based on advice from provincial health officials. Brandon is the site of one of Manitoba's largest COVID-19 clusters, with at least 64 known cases linked to it. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Hand sanitizer will be available at every school entrance and exit, while both sanitizer and cleaning solutions will be available in every classroom, he said. Administrative staff who work in the front office will have permanent plexiglass dividers at their work stations.

The first week back will have staggered start dates to make people more comfortable coming back to school, he said.

The division has also enlisted a trauma response expert to work with students and staff on maintaining their mental health during the pandemic, Casavant said. 

Kevin Cameron of the North American Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response will be coming one day in early September to work with staff, Casavant said.

Bus service undecided for some

The division has added five buses to its fleet to help maintain physical distancing for students who use them to get to school, Casavant said. That means all students outside Brandon's city limits, all students with disabilities plus all students at Alexander School and École O'Kelly School will have access to bus service if they need it, he said.

The division is still working on plans to try to ensure transport for all students from kindergarten to Grade 8, Casavant said. But even with the extra seats, high school students inside the city won't make the cut to qualify for bus service this school year.

The division is also still working with the City of Brandon to explore the possibility of working with its public transit service to accommodate students who don't qualify for school bus service, he said.

Bus service for some students in Brandon is still being decided, Casavant said. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

Schools will each create their own specific plans for how things like lockers, recesses and lunch breaks will work, he said. Those plans should be unveiled in the coming weeks. 

Physical education classes will be encouraged to be outside as often as possible, he said. The division is still waiting on guidance from the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association to see whether organized sports will go ahead this school year.

Field trips will depend on whether transport is available, and will only be allowed if groups are able to abide by public health measures, Casavant said.

Schools in the division will postpone all band, choir, home economics and industrial arts classes, at least until the rest of the back-to-school plan has been implemented. Once that happens, school officials will revisit the topic and see if there's a way to bring those programs back safely, he said.

Teachers who normally work in those areas will be reassigned in the interim, and all division staff laid off during the pandemic are being brought back to work, Casavant said.

"We're just trying to take a cautious approach. There's certainly some concerns with choral and band and the ability to transmit droplets that can go a further distance," he said.

"Right now, we just feel that we've got enough on our plate bringing people back with the core programming that we have."

NDP pushes for stronger mask rules from province

On Friday, Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he wants to see a stronger stance from the province on mask usage on a regional basis.

Overall, he'd prefer to see mandatory mask use for children 10 and older, consistent with advice from Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer.

"The national experts are telling us to mandate masks age 10 and up, so I think Manitoba should be there," he said. "Manitoba's not moved in that direction."

If the province won't require mask use in schools, Kinew said school divisions should be free to do so.

"If we have an area like Brandon, where we are seeing increasing cases, and the school division officials want to mandate masks, they should be able to do so, and the province should get out of the way."


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