Manitoba

Manitoba's largest school division to still 'strongly recommend' masks after March 15 mandate ends

Manitoba's largest school divisions will recommend that everyone wear face masks after March 15, when the province puts an end to the public health order that requires people to wear them indoors.

Other school divisions waiting to issue stances, some following provincial move

The Winnipeg School Division said it strongly recommends that students and staff continue to wear masks. Some divisions won't require their use and others haven't made a decision on the matter yet. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Manitoba's largest school divisions will recommend that everyone wear face masks after March 15, when the province puts an end to the public health order that requires people to wear them indoors.

The Winnipeg School Division (WSD), which has 78 schools, 29,593 students and 4,573 full-time employees, said in a news release on Tuesday it is "strongly recommending that staff and students continue to wear masks when indoors and when riding on a school bus."

"Masks are just one measure in WSD's larger strategy to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in our schools."

Last Friday, the province said in a memo that face masks will no longer be required in schools and child-care facilities when its mask mandate is dropped next week.

The memo, addressed to staff at early-learning and child-care facilities, said the decision is based on advice from public health officials and mirrors changes to public health requirements that are taking place in the community.

Child-care facilities, schools and divisions can continue to order masks for the time being and anyone can continue to choose to wear masks, according to the memo. 

The Manitoba Teachers Society called the move "premature" in a release that same day.

"It is essential that 'return to normal' proceed with the utmost caution, guided by science. The medical community continues to advocate for masks as a measure that reduces risk," the release said.

Other school divisions haven't made firm decisions on whether they'll follow the province's lead or continue to strongly recommend masks.

Louis Riel School Division said it has a meeting with public health officials on March 10, and will communicate with the school community afterwards.

"Work to monitor the situation is ongoing, and schools and child-care facilities need to be prepared for future scenarios that may require additional preventive measures," the division wrote in a letter to students, staff and parents on March 4.

The Pembina Trails School Division's board will also meet on Thursday to discuss the lifting of the mandate.

'Still some hesitation' to go maskless

Meanwhile, Ron Falk,  the board chair of the Hanover School Division, said the southern Manitoba division will continue to follow the province's lead.

Lawrence McKenzie, the principal of Portage Collegiate Institute in Portage la Prairie, said the school will support students and staff in whatever decision they make — to go unmasked or to wear one.

McKenzie, who is also the Grade 12 administrator at the school with roughly 1,000 students, said "a good majority" of the students he oversees will continue wearing them.

"There's still some hesitation of not wanting to get sick and the benefits of wearing the masks," he said in an interview on CBC Manitoba's Radio Noon on Monday.

Teachers are also a mixed bag, he said.

"We've got some staff that are definitely looking forward to not having to wear the mask and we've got some staff that are a little bit apprehensive."

With files from Margaux Watt

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