Manitoba schools may not reopen by September, says school boards association president

Whether or not Manitoba schools will reopen in September remains a question as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Manitoba’s elementary and high schools still might not be back to regular in-person classes come September, the president of the Manitoba School Boards Association says.

Alan Campbell told 680 CJOB that schools are hoping to get back to normal teaching routines by then, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“The challenge that we have is we’re talking about September, and the best information we will have to plan for September may not be available until August,” said Campbell.

“We continue to try to plan for every eventuality, but we’re looking at combinations of online learning and classroom learning.

“We’re looking at other jurisdictions like Quebec and places in Europe, where they have plans to resume classroom learning in the more immediate future, to understand what’s best for Manitobans.”

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Campbell said the association is working with public health officials to plan for all options — including a continuation of remote learning into the next school year, should it be necessary.

“When it comes to how we plan for the future, we’re doing our best to plan for all scenarios,” he said. “The unknown is still a big part of the conversations that we’re having — and to what extent online learning may still need to be part of what we do, that remains a question.”

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But Campbell also pointed to potential issues with online learning in a later interview with Global News, noting that there need to be discussions about access to education between governments and school divisions.

“If the decisions are being made that we cannot resume to classroom learning in a meaningful way in the fall and therefore we need to be providing meaningful alternatives… there will need to be more meaningful conversations around connectivity and internet connection,” he said.

“The fact [is] that many Manitobans, especially in our rural and remote northern communities don’t have internet access unless it’s at an extraordinary cost and even in some cases they can pay whatever they want but they can’t get internet.”
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Campbell also said while some families and students have adjusted well to remote learning, others have struggled.

“There are families struggling because of schedules, the stresses associated with trying to meet the expectations, and then there are families who have not connected with schools at all because of poverty challenges, because of socioeconomic realities, mental and physical health challenges that just make learning at home impossible,” he said.

Manitoba’s schools have been shuttered since early in the pandemic, with an announcement from the province back on March 31 that schools would remain closed “indefinitely” due to the coronavirus crisis.

While schools across the province have been coming up with ways to keep their students and teachers connected remotely, Manitoba parents have had to take on a significant role in their children’s education.

Premier Brian Pallister has made it clear that students won’t be returning to class before the end of the current school year.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, told media last week the question of whether to reopen schools in the fall is being examined, but there are a number of factors to consider before sending kids back to class.

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“Certainly, things can change by the time fall comes around, but certainly we’ve looked at what things could look like,” he said.

“We’re still going to be dealing with this virus. We’re still going to need to have ways to deal with physical distancing. We know that it’s not possible for the entire day, but there are things that can be put in place.

“We can try to do what we can to limit class sizes to ensure decreased prolonged contact by spacing desks out.”

— with files from Erik Pindera

Click to play video: '“We don’t want to risk a rebound” Manitoba schools and sport events not likely to reopen soon'
“We don’t want to risk a rebound” Manitoba schools and sport events not likely to reopen soon

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