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Winnipeg schools ready for start of strangest school year in recent memory

Click to play video: 'Back to School in Manitoba' Back to School in Manitoba
It was a wide range of emotions for parents, teachers, and students on Tuesday as kids began returning to class. Marek Tkach reports on day 1 of the new normal – Sep 8, 2020

Tuesday marked back to school for thousands of Manitoba students, but it’s definitely not back to normal.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools across the province have taken health and safety measures to protect staff and students that make the 2020-21 school year an unprecedented experience for everyone involved.

Tony Kreml, principal at Garden City Collegiate, told 680 CJOB his school’s biggest challenge has been scheduling.

“Here at Garden City Collegiate, we’re going to a blended learning model, meaning that students attend every second day,” said Kreml.

“One of our tasks starting in early August was to divide our school so that all students could come every second day, but at the same time receive all the courses they wanted to get, and that’s including elective courses.”

Kreml said the new setup means the school’s population, typically 1,400, will be halved on any given day.

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“They’re certainly going to notice fewer students in our hallways, but they’re also going to notice that movement in the school is going to be significantly different.

“They’ll be coming into different entrances and moving in very specific manners to next classes.”

Garden City also expects students and staff to wear masks upon arrival and in the hallways, but in classrooms, where a protocol of two metres of physical distancing is being followed, the kids can take them off.

Elementary schools have also been hard at work prepping for day one amid COVID-19, and Clifton School custodian Dan Jefkins told 680 CJOB there’s been a flurry of activity behind the scenes.

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“It’s been pretty crazy. We’ve been getting lots done around the school, lots of trades guys coming and going, getting all those things done that we’ve been holding off for months and months on doing,” he said.

“We’ve been getting all the lines ready, the arrows ready, the places where the kids have to stand to go to the washrooms, to the classrooms… Where they line up outside, we’ve got the ground painted.

“The second you walk in, you’re going to see hand sanitizer stations at every entranceway.”

Click to play video: 'Kids, parents come back to Clifton School' Kids, parents come back to Clifton School
Kids, parents come back to Clifton School – Sep 8, 2020

Clifton principal Nancy MacTavish said the school has done what it can leading up to Tuesday’s first day by communicating to families ahead of time.

“We’ve been sending home videos to the children so they have a good idea of what’s going to be happening here at Clifton School, so that’s really been helpful, I believe. A lot of parents have called me and thanked me for that video.

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“The children can really see what to expect when they come back to school during a pandemic.”

MacTavish said some routines will be different from what returning students may remember.

“What we’ve done, which we don’t normally do, is we’ve labelled all the desks,” she said.

“We used to have something called flexible seating where the students would be able to choose where they sit, but now we actually have assigned desks. They’re all measured, one metre apart, because they’ll all be in their classroom cohorts.”

Click to play video: 'Manitoba School Boards Association back to school' Manitoba School Boards Association back to school
Manitoba School Boards Association back to school – Sep 8, 2020

Read more: Manitoba health officials report 11 new coronavirus cases as students return to school Tuesday

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Manitoba education minister Kelvin Goertzen told media Tuesday that the first day back at school is a very significant day for students.

“When the in-class learning was suspended before spring break in March, we really didn’t know what we were going into — or when we’d be coming out of it,” he said.

“Those are questions parents had with their kids right around the province, about when would school resume — nobody knew — and what it would look like.”

Goertzen said a number of organizations, both in the education field and in the provincial government, helped with the lead-up to school, not least of which was Manitoba’s public health officials.

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“Public health has had a partnership with schools for a very long time — this is not the first time public health has been involved with schools,” he said.

“They’ve been involved in schools for many, many years operating the vaccination programs in the schools, operating all the other health issues that happen within the schools.

“This was a relationship that existed for a long time, but this was intensified now during the lead-up to school in preparing the documenting, which of course was approved and signed off by officials and public health.”

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