On August 30, the Louis Riel School Division (LRSD) shared information with our kindergarten to Grade 8 parents and guardians that Middle Years Athletics (Grades 4 to 8) would be suspended until October 1, 2020, with a review to take place in late September.
On Sept. 4, the LRSD Senior Leadership Team accepted a joint recommendation from the LRSD Coordinator of Healthy Living and high school principals to suspend all high school sports until Sept. 21.
In both cases, these measures were implemented to allow LRSD staff to create plans and procedures for the safe return of staff and students into schools.
Since July, LRSD staff have worked tirelessly to create learning groups and larger cohorts to maintain two metres (six feet) of physical distancing in all 40 schools and to reduce the potential mixing of cohorts of staff and students while at school.
We’ve been meticulous and rigorous in our approach to navigating the pandemic so we can do our part to support a sustained reopening of our society and its economy.
For this reason, all schools will continue to uphold the two metres (six-foot) physical distancing standard we’ve established in LRSD for all instructional activities and extracurricular activities, including sports. The creation of cohorts in all schools, including the cohorts created for students travelling to and from school by school bus, has been a critical component of our return to school plan and adherence to it at all times is necessary. Therefore, at this time, LRSD will not engage in Hockey Manitoba’s Return To Play (RTP) Phase 2 plan or permit high schools to initiate a hockey RTP strategy since we continue to advise that no divisional or school organized activity will occur if it requires students or participants to cross cohorts.
We recognize and acknowledge the work that has gone into the hockey RTP planning, but we know that the program would require us to set aside our cohorting model. Doing so would put participants at higher risk of catching the virus and that is contrary to our commitment to keeping them safe.
However, to be clear, any extracurricular activity sanctioned by LRSD must meet and maintain all safety and public health measures we have implemented and expect for all class activity in schools.
With the recent re-opening of schools, we must also focus on providing an equitable, consistent and quality education to our students. To do that, we need to do everything we can to mitigate the potential of COVID-19 entering our spaces and when it does, ensuring we contain the spread to minimize any disruption to students, staff and families.
As the current school year progresses, there will be further review and discussions about extra-curricular activities. The ability for a school and a group of students to initiate a club, committee or sport in the school will be dependent on the ability to do so without having students or staff members crossing cohorts.
School administrators and the LRSD Senior Team understand and appreciate the value that extra-curricular activities have on students’ identity and development. We know that for many students the connection to a sports team, club, or committee is what makes school a special place for them. We also know that we are entrusted with creating safe environments for all 15,723 students in our 40 schools.
We continue to review the development of protocols and guidelines from a variety of groups, including sports organizations. While their guidelines are a good start, they are often created without the input of school divisions. Without that consultation, the guidelines they create do not parallel the standards we’ve established in our division.
The pandemic has forced us to look at all aspects of our daily routine, including the hobbies, interests and passions we value and to re-invent ways to enjoy them in a safe and sustainable way. It has also demanded a need to re-visit the importance of a strong community whose goal is to ensure the well-being of everyone in it.
We know that one day, there will be a COVID-19 vaccine, and the restrictions and protocols we all face will no longer be required. I can assure you that nothing would give me greater happiness than being able to say to staff, students and families that they can return to the activities they love without a list of limitations. Until then, we must remain vigilant because even though we may be two metres (or six feet) apart, we’re all in this together.
Stay safe and be well.
Christian Michalik, Superintendent and CEO