Concerned citizens have resurrected the Safe September MB campaign with updated demands to keep COVID-19 out of the classroom, including ongoing mandatory mask use, compulsory vaccination for school employees and students who are 12 and older, and the installation of portable air filters in schools.
The collective of parents, teachers and community members — which was founded in August 2020, but whose advocacy efforts quieted as the 2020-21 academic year progressed — released 14 calls to action for the province ahead of its back-to-school announcement Thursday.
Given few of the demands were addressed in Manitoba’s official blueprint for a return to full-time in-person instruction for all K-12 students, the group is launching a letter-writing campaign to call for stricter measures in schools as of Sept. 7.
"The 2021-22 school year begins in just under one month. Meanwhile, students under 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated for COVID-19, and a fourth wave of the global COVID-19 pandemic is already emerging across Canada," a news release sent Wednesday night states. "Manitobans are deeply concerned that our provincial government is not planning to do enough to provide safe and accessible education for K-12 students in September 2021."
The group’s 2020 campaign put pressure on the Progressive Conservative government to mandate non-medical face coverings ahead of the first day of school. This time last year, masks were only recommended, although the province later made them compulsory for pupils in Grade 4 and up.
Now, Safe September MB wants the province to require "high-quality" masks be worn in all K-12 schools by staff members and students of all ages. The province, however, announced Thursday only a "strong recommendation" that masks be worn this fall.
Many of the group’s latest demands mirror those made in 2020, with calls to guarantee smaller class sizes to allow for physical distancing of two metres and offer publicly funded remote learning options. The collective has also made clear it wants many measures to remain intact, including cohorting, contact tracing, encouraging both outdoor activities and windows to be opened when possible, and self-isolation stints for anyone exposed to COVID-19.
Among its other demands: launch school-based vaccination clinics starting later this month, make rapid testing available in schools throughout the year, monitor carbon monoxide levels in indoor spaces, and install HEPA air filtration units in all classrooms.
While the group wants Manitoba to require all eligible students and staff members be fully vaccinated to attend classes, it acknowledges accommodations should be made for anyone who cannot get inoculated.
Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press