Older students in Winnipeg's St. James-Assiniboia School Division will get masks when they go back to school

Staff and students in grades 6 to 12 at all schools within the St. James-Assiniboia School Division will be supplied with reusable masks to wear in class when the school year resumes.

Masks will be offered for students in grades 6 to 12, but use will be optional

Mask-wearing students in Texas wait for classes to begin on Wednesday. Manitoba is not requiring students to wear masks, but one school division in Winnipeg will encourage older students to do so. (LM Otero/The Associated Press)

Students in grades 6 to 12 at all schools within Winnipeg's St. James-Assiniboia School Division will be encouraged to wear reusable masks in class when they go back to school in September.

The division says two reusable masks will be made available for each middle school and high school student who wants them. Parents are welcome to send their kids to school with their own masks if they prefer. 

Masks will also be purchased for teachers, educational assistants, bus drivers, and custodial and support staff, said St. James-Assiniboia superintendent Mike Wake.

"Looking and listening to what's going on around the world and the medical feedback that is out there, our reality is to maintain that academic programming integrity," he said.

"We are going to have students moving around, and we're going to try and ensure the cohort size, but when that's not possible we want to give them a choice."

The masks won't be mandatory, Wake said, and are only being recommended when physical distancing isn't possible.

In addition to reusable masks, teachers will also be given face shields they can use.

"We feel it's important that students see that facial expression.… I even know from my own experience from wearing a mask, you don't realize how much you rely on that visual," Wake said.

"I want our students to see our adults smiling. That smile is just as powerful as words."

Masks required in Ontario, Alberta

The division's mask plan is a pilot idea for now, Wake said, adding plans could always change depending on the advice from Manitoba health officials. Full details of the division's back-to-school plan will be released on Aug. 17, he said.

The school division is also mulling the idea of supplying reusable masks for students in grades 4 and 5, but Wake said that's not in the plan right now.

"At the early years we feel very comfortable with our class sizes. They have one to two teachers at most and stay in one classroom for the most part," he said, while high school students move from class to class more.

Mask use for students will be required in some jurisdictions, including Ontario and Alberta, where students from grades 4 to 12 and staff will be required to wear them. Masks are also mandatory in all indoor public spaces in Nova Scotia, including common areas in schools.

At a news briefing Tuesday, federal Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada will be publishing detailed guidelines later this week that include a recommendation that children over the age of 10 wear masks at school.

The Manitoba government is still considering whether masks should be required at schools, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said on Tuesday. 

Winnipeg School Division still finalizing plans

CBC also reached out to several school divisions across the city.

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg School Division said officials there are open to the idea of masks being used in class, but it is still in the process of finalizing its back-to-school plan.

The Pembina Trails School Division said it will share its plan soon, and that it is following the advice of health-care officials.

Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O'Leary said he supports the idea of recommending masks for older students, but not for those under Grade 6. 

O'Leary said schools are still working through their plans and more details will be released by mid-August.

Louis Riel School Division said it is reviewing the approaches that other provinces and school divisions in Manitoba are taking regarding personal protective equipment.

"Our senior leadership team, along with our board of trustees, believe the informed wearing of masks by staff and students in specific instances will be a part of our overall return to [an] in-school learning strategy," the division said in a statement Friday.

Staff at the River East Transcona School Division said nobody was available to comment until next Monday.


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