The province is asking Manitoba schools to come back with one of three plans for how they would like to come back to classes and says students can expect less bussing, fewer assemblies and other changes when school returns on Sept. 8.
Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen and Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief medical health officer, discussed the plans for reopening schools this fall and released a planning framework for the resumption of in-class learning Thursday.
A release from the province said the frame work gives guidance for school divisions to work out “detailed reopening plans” under three scenarios.
If COVID-19 numbers remain low, students will see a near-normal return to school, subject to physical distancing requirements and limitations on gatherings, bussing and other items.
If the pandemic becomes severe, the school system will rely on online learning and classrooms will be shut except for small-group tutoring and assessments.
The middle-case scenario would see students kept in cohorts with a small number of classmates who would likely stay together throughout the day. Kids in elementary and middle school would continue to go to class five days a week, while high school students could be cut back to two days in class and three days online.
The reopening plans are to be submitted to Manitoba Education, which will provide final confirmation by Aug. 1 based on public health directions, said Goertzen, who added the plan is for all students to return to classroom learning in the fall, if possible.
“While we can’t be sure what the COVID-19 pandemic will look like in the fall, detailed planning is needed to ensure schools can resume in-class learning and to prepare for different scenarios,” said Goertzen in a government release.
“This framework will allow schools and school divisions to prepare plans that are flexible at the local level, yet consistent with those at other sites across the province.”
Goertzen had previously confirmed schools will reopen on Sept. 8 — with teachers and staff returning Sept. 2 to get ready — but hadn’t yet said how social distancing will be achieved, or if there will be a combination of in-school and distance learning.
On Thursday the province said the planning framework provided to divisions outline “key considerations” that need to be addressed in their plans including:
- 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.
Not back to normal
Goertzen also expanded on the changes parents and students can expect when school returns this fall.
Because of physical distancing requirements, school buses will only allow one student per seat unless they are from the same household, and many parents will be expected to drive their kids to school.
“We will rely heavily on parents who are able to bring their kids to school to do that,” Goertzen said.
Once in school, students may face new limits on their ability to gather in close quarters — lunch-hour breaks may be staggered, students may stay in one classroom for most of the day while teachers rotate, and student assemblies will be limited.
In cases where schools are already crowded and physical distancing is a challenge, some courses may not be offered so that everyone can learn core subjects such as math and science.
“From an education perspective, the priorities have to first be on those core subjects if there is a space challenge,” Goertzen said.
“And that won’t be the case in every school but it might be the case in some.”
The Opposition New Democrats said the government should ensure that elective courses continue to be available.
“They actually came today and recommended cutting classes rather than hiring more teachers or assistants to make sure that kids get all the learning that they need,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
“The government should be making investments … so that kids can get the full educational experience this fall.”
Premier Brian Pallister was criticized earlier this week after Goertzen confirmed the school reopening date via twitter, rather than holding a press conference.
When asked why it was announced this way, he said he didn’t consider the confirmation “newsworthy.”
Classroom learning was shut down across the province on March 23 due to COVID-19, although remote learning and some small-group in-class tutoring continued.
On June 1 the province allowed some students to head back to school for one-on-one or small group sessions with their teachers as part of Phase 2 of Manitoba’s reopening plan.
Manitoba’s COVID-19 curve has remained relatively flat, with only a handful of new cases in the past week.
The province has seen a total of 316 presumed and confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with one new case — a man in his 40s from southern Manitoba — reported Thursday.
–With files from Elisha Dacey and The Canadian PressView link »