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Winnipeg school divisions planning for remote learning for students at risk

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With just one week before students head back to class, school divisions in Winnipeg are starting to release remote learning plans for immunocompromised students. Brittany Greenslade reports – Sep 1, 2020

With just one week before students head back to class, school divisions in Winnipeg are starting to release remote learning plans for immunocompromised students.

The Manitoba government’s back-to-school plan has left it up to divisions to put remote learning in place for students who are medically advised not to return to school due to COVID-19-related risk factors.

“These situations should be rare and limited to children with compromised immune systems or other medical conditions that increase their risk,” a government spokesperson said via email.

READ MORE: What Winnipeggers need to know for back-to-school tech amid coronavirus

However, one school division has already decided to expand who is eligible for remote learning.

The Pembina Trails School Division said it will allow children with weakened immune systems to take classes from home, as well as students who live with someone who is immunocompromised.

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It does fall in line with the provincial mandate, which said remote learning would be considered for students “if health-care providers have concerns for immediate family members.”

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Ted Fransen, superintendent of Pembina Trails School Division, said as long as a family provides a medical note from a doctor confirming someone who is immunocompromised lives at home with a student, the division will include that student in their remote learning programming.

“We have always, in Pembina Trails, been mindful of students who have an immunocompromised situation and have accommodated as much as we can,” he said Tuesday.

“And now with this extra stress, of course, of COVID, we have increased our programming so those families can request learning at home.”

For kindergarten to Grade 8 classrooms the Pembina Trails Board of Trustees has invested in cameras for each classroom for instructional purposes, to be used at teachers’ discretion. It said when a child is unable to attend class, they may be able to follow along for parts of the day.

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For older students on ‘home days,’ the cameras can be used “when appropriate and at educators’ discretion.”

The division said it will allow students to remain registered at their home school while receiving online instruction and independent work.

READ MORE: School divisions in Winnipeg release plans for return to classes amid coronavirus pandemic

“Learning will include real-time teacher instruction with all students registered in the class, along with pre-recorded videos and printable resources,” the division said on its website.

“This approach will rely on the parents and guardians to monitor engagement and completion of required independent work.”

The division said parents will have until Sept. 4 to contact their child’s school principal to register and they will need a medical certificate.

The Seven Oaks School Division said it anticipates between 80 and 100 students will need remote learning this school year due to medical needs.

“We will support students in remote learning where medically advised,” Superintendent Brian O’Leary told Global News. “We have and will support students with devices and connections.”

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The province’s largest school division –the Winnipeg School Division — said it won’t know right away how many children will require remote learning at the start of the school year but it has already started making preparations.

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The division has purchased 1,200 data-enabled devices it can lend out to students who may need to self-isolate or work from home for periods of time.

“We also have 2,166 Chromebooks and iPads in the division but most of those will likely be required for in-class learning,” Senior Information Officer Radean Carter said.

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen has previously said parents who are not comfortable sending their kids back to school have the option of homeschooling.

Read more: Coronavirus: More Manitoba families looking at homeschooling for fall

Fransen said Pembina Trails has seen an increase in questions about both homeschooling and division’s the remote learning program this year, but said they won’t know exactly how many parent decide on teaching their kids at home until the school year starts.

Ultimately Fransen says it’s worth the risk to have students back in class this fall.

“The best thing for our children right now is to be together, safely, and following the health protocol,” he said.

“Learning is a social enterprise, it’s not an enterprise in isolation, we need eachother and I think that it’s a risk worth taking.”

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