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The province has asked Manitoba’s 37 public school divisions to put an indefinite pause on purchases of face masks and other personal protective equipment.
The request, which the Manitoba School Boards Association made its members aware of Monday, comes as divisions finalize 2020 back-to-school planning — and ahead of an education announcement expected Thursday.
A number of divisions have already secured supplies for staff who support students with additional needs in close quarters and for when staff or students start to show COVID-19 symptoms in schools.
At least one board, the St. James Assiniboia School Division, was also planning to supply each of its staff and students with two non-medical masks for the upcoming school year.
"Every school division in the province is certainly looking at options to be prepared in the event that they need (masks)," MSBA president Alan Campbell said, when reached by phone Wednesday.
Campbell said he is not aware of how many boards have pulled the trigger.
"We are waiting for further guidance from the government," he said, declining to comment further on the procurement request.
On Aug. 10, MSBA sent a mass email — on behalf of its executive director, Josh Watt — to division chairpersons, superintendents and secretary-treasurers, on the subject.
"Planning for appropriate response to a pandemic is never an easy or straightforward undertaking. We appreciate the many dynamics that influence decisions and that at this point, every single division is making its best effort to plan for the safety and well-being of its students, staff and communities," states the email, obtained by the Free Press.
It goes on to state given those realities and ongoing discussions between stakeholders, MSBA included, and the province, Manitoba Education has asked boards "refrain from placing or stockpiling any personal protective equipment, including masks."
Purchases should be put on hold, according to the email, until there is clarification on types of masks, the circumstances in which they should be used, and if divisions can access, to any extent, the province’s stockpiles in order to address costs and ensure equipment is in line with public health guidance.
Divisions were also asked to submit information about their current supplies and orders that were placed before Monday evening.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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