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To mask or not to mask? Here’s how each province is preparing for the school year in the age of COVID-19

To mask or not to mask? Here’s how each province is preparing for the school year in the age of COVID-19
Canada
September will come with more than the usual amount of back-to-school jitters as parents, teachers and students grapple with how to return to class safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each province plans on reopening schools in the fall — with varying requirements for keeping kids at a distance from one another, and Ontario is the only province to mandate that all students from Grades 4 to 12 don a mask. All provinces ask that students and teachers who feel unwell stay home rather than go to school, and require additional cleaning measures and stringent hand-washing routines.

Experts at SickKids released a document last week, saying smaller classes are key to limiting kids’ contacts, and that younger students should remain at least one metre apart, and teens two. They also recommended that masks should be used by high school students when physical distancing is difficult.

Here’s how each province is planning to bring students back to class:

British Columbia

B.C. was the only province in Canada to open all schools at the end of the previous school year — albeit on a part-time basis, with voluntary attendance.

Now the provincial health officer has announced a plan to return all students to school full-time, with in-class instruction. The distinguishing feature of B.C.’s back to school plan is the creation of “learning groups” — essentially social bubbles within schools that will set caps on the number of students able to socialize with one another outside of their own classrooms.

For elementary school students, the learning groups have a maximum of 60 students, while the number is 120 for high school students.

The B.C. teachers’ union has come out against the back-to-school plan, saying it’s too early in the pandemic to bring a full cohort of students back to classrooms safely.

Masks will not be mandatory in B.C. classrooms, but will be recommended where social distancing isn’t possible. The province will be making masks available in schools.

Alberta

Alberta will be bringing students back to school for full-time in-class instruction in the fall.

The province’s back-to-school plan emphasizes cleaning of surfaces, and spreading messages to students and parents about physical distancing and hand sanitizing.

The plan allows for the possibility of staggering break times so that fewer students socialize together at the same time.

Masks will not be required under Alberta’s plan, but the Calgary board of education is recommending them for the start of the school year.

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan has announced a phased approach to back-to-school, whereby the return of in-class learning depends on whether the province keeps case counts of COVID-19 to a minimum. The plan provides for the possibility of a return to at-home instruction if the province sees a COVID-19 resurgence.

Saskatchewan has not yet announced which phase of its back-to-school strategy will be in effect come September, but plans to do so next week.

Masks will be optional.

Manitoba

All students will return to in-class instruction in the fall in Manitoba — but high school students may still be learning with a mix of online and in-class teaching.

High schools will decide on individual plans for bringing students back to school, with the requirement that the students must interact within “cohorts” with a maximum size of 75.
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