Halfway through the first month of the school year, many parents still have questions about what activities and classes their children can participate in.
CBC News launched a survey asking parents for their most urgent questions as their children return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parents wanted to know whether regular programs, such as physical education and band, as well as extra-curricular activities, like sports and musical theatre, would still be available. They also wanted to know how rules meant to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, such as mask-wearing, would be enforced in these settings.
We looked at the Manitoba government’s guidelines, as well as the plans drafted by school divisions, to find some answers.
Take our survey if you have any other questions you want answered.
What programs can schools offer during the pandemic?
Schools must follow provincial guidelines meant to limit the spread of the virus, including physical distancing and requiring the use of masks for all students and staff when a physical distance of two metres can’t be maintained.
This may mean that schools will have to modify how they offer certain programs, doing things like holding them outside, while other programs may be suspended or cancelled for the duration of the school year.
“Each sport, performing arts or recreational activity group/organization and/or facility must establish a plan to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission between participants and spectators,” the province says in its guidelines.
Who decides what programs are offered?
The province has issued general guidelines to school divisions on how to safely offer programs such as sports and music.
Decisions on which programs students can take, however, will be made by individual schools.
“Every school plan is different and responds to the school’s unique needs and options based on their space and students,” said Radean Carter, senior information officer for the Winnipeg School Division.
Parents should consult their school’s pandemic plan to find out which programs are offered.
Will there be gym class?
The province recommends that physical education classes be held outdoors, as much as possible. In some cases, schools have been forced to repurpose gyms in order to provide more space for physical distancing, limiting the availability of these facilities.
“Indoor or outdoor non-contact sports (e.g. tennis and soccer) are permitted, as long as physical distancing can be maintained during the play, except for brief exchanges of close contact,” the province said.
What about school sports?
According to the Manitoba High School Athletics Association, some sports, such as football, have been approved to return to training and competition, with cohorting and restrictions on the number of people allowed on the field. Other sports, like volleyball, are allowed to resume training but not competition.
Others, like golf, soccer and cross country, are allowed to resume full play, with some modifications.
Hockey teams can resume non-contact on-ice training in September, with the goal of resuming competitive play in October.
Some school divisions, like St. James-Assiniboia School Division, are taking a more cautious approach and suspending school sports for the month of September, to be reassessed at the end of the month.
Will music programs still be offered?
Due to the increased risk of spreading the virus through singing, the province has said that choir and musical theatre programs should not be offered.
“There have been multiple reports globally where participation in a choir has been associated as an event that led to the spread of COVID-19 to many people (also called a ‘super-spreader’ event),” the province said.
Like sports, the province recommends that music programs be modified to meet the needs for physical distancing. Preference should be given to outdoor venues, and the number of vocalists and instrumentalists should be limited small groups or soloists.
Some school divisions have temporarily suspended music programs for the month of September.
How will students be protected during these activities?
For sports, the province recommends taking a “layered” approach with multiple protective measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19. These include reducing the number of participants and spectators, and encouraging a focus on activities where distance can be maintained.
The province recommends wearing non-medical masks or face shields, if possible, in situations where distance can’t be maintained. However, the guidelines acknowledge this might not always be possible or desirable.
The province’s guidelines for musicians make no mention of masks, instead focusing on measures that ensure physical distance and good hygiene, like reducing the number of performers on stage and prohibiting the sharing of materials.
This story was made possible thanks to Manitobans who filled out CBC’s back-to-school survey. In it, we asked parents, teachers and students to send us their top questions and concerns about the unprecedented school year ahead.
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