Manitoba outlines different scenarios of what back-to-school may look like
WINNIPEG -- The province of Manitoba has released plans to send students back to school in the fall, which could look different depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the province.
Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen along with Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, released back to school plans for multiple scenarios that the province may be facing in September.
Under these plans, teachers and staff are to return to the classrooms on Sept. 2, with all students from kindergarten to Grade 12, heading back on Sept. 8.
In-person classes were suspended in March, with Manitoba schools shifting to an online learning format.
"Things will not be exactly as they were last September when students come back to school this September, but we are in a very envious position compared to most places in Canada and many in North America," Goertzen said.
The plans detail guidelines for three scenarios including returning to in-class learning under near-normal conditions, returning to in-class learning while taking additional public health measures into consideration, and remote learning from home with limited use of school facilities.
"We are looking at the scenario where we would have students that are back in school, but with still some social, some physical requirements," Goertzen said. "Based on the numbers we are seeing at this point, we believe that is the most likely scenario and a pretty good scenario to be in, but that requires Manitobans to keep doing what they are doing."
Goertzen said the province will provide final confirmation on what the return to the classroom will look like by Aug. 1
Opposition leader Wab Kinew criticized the plan, saying the province should have given parents and teachers more certainty.
“Instead of telling everybody, hey wait until August long weekend for our announcement, they could have come out and said ‘Hey everyone, here’s the plan unless you hear different'," he said.
STUDENTS AND STAFF TOLD TO STAY HOME IF SICK
Goertzen said parents, teachers, staff and students need to remember as they prepare to return to school is, if they are feeling sick then they need to stay home.
"Two months is some amount of notice to say to those parents – prepare. Prepare a plan for if your child can't go to school, and you are going to work and you don't have a natural place for that child to go – prepare for that," Goertzen said.
He said there may be more at-home learning moving forward due to students staying home if they are feeling sick or have an underlying health condition.
The guidelines include the following:
- Ensuring schools can respond and adapt to changing public health orders and guidance;
- Making sure any necessary physical distancing requirements can be met;
- Considering the use of cohorts in classrooms, on buses and during activities to limit exposure to COVID-19;
- Planning with a focus on in-class learning and establishing priorities;
- Looking at ways to accommodate specialty programming and extracurricular activities;
- Considering how school transportation can be safely offered;
- Looking at blended learning options that can be implemented quickly;
- Making arrangements for students, teachers and staff who may be at higher risk of COVID-19; and
- Considering learning and assessment needs, as well as any educational gaps for students as a result of the pandemic.
Goertzen said, how physical distancing will be followed may be different depending on the school.
“From an education perspective there’s a priority on math, science, literacy in terms of spacing," he said. "Whether that’s a gymnasium or a library, they should prioritize those core subjects.”
Schools and divisions are being asked to consider the use of cohorts in classrooms, on buses and during activities to limit the exposure of the virus.
“So if we do see a case say within a school and that cohorting has been successful then we are going to be limiting the potential spread within that cohort and not within the entire school," Roussin said.
Christian Michalik, superintendent of the Louis Riel School Division, said the division's priority is keeping the community safe and supported.
"The advice from the Chief Provincial Public Health Officer and the direction from Manitoba Education will guide our planning and decisions,” said Michalik. “Our goal is to create an approach that maximizes well-being and mitigates risk. We continue to review and refine our strategy and are eager to release our comprehensive plan for a safe return to schools by June 30, at the latest.”
A spokesperson from the Winnipeg School Division said they are taking time to review the province's plan and find out what additional items need to be included in the division's existing plan for reopening.
TEACHERS' SOCIETY LOOKS FOR MORE DETAILS
Manitoba Teachers' Society President James Bedford welcomed the framework and called it consistent with plans in other parts of the country.
Bedford said teachers would have liked more time to prepare.
“The framework talks about cohorts, there are a lot of questions about what that means.”
Bedford said the framework is also thin on details when it comes to high school students, who take electives and bounce from class to class.
Teachers are receiving fewer personal days next year, which Bedford said will be a challenge, given the new learning environment staff and students will have to navigate.
LIMITING THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS ON BUSES
Another challenge for some families will be transportation. The province is asking parents to drive their children if possible, rather than putting them on school buses. On Thursday, Goertzen said, 50 per cent of parents who participated in a provincial survey were open to the idea.
But the plan may add to the child care crunch facing many families, be more difficult for rural communities and could increase traffic.
“Our members have always been concerned about that congestion that can occur at the front of the school. There may eventually be talk of a staggered start time,” said Bedford.
“We won’t be sending our kids on a bus,” said Sukhi Brar who has three children. Two of her kids are returning to school in the fall and she says she is concerned about sending them back.
“Schools are already full, if they’re reducing classroom sizes where are they going to find the room to do that,” said Brar.
Whatever the plan announced August 1, Abe Araya and his 12-year-old son Josiah say they’re relieved that school will restart.
“(It’s been) kind of boring, I miss hanging out with my friends,” said Josiah.
“The public school system is great. I think they will be ready and we have more respect for them now after the last few months,” said Araya.
You can read the full Manitoba back to school plan here: