The Manitoba government is instituting two-weeks of remote learning for students in Grades 7 through 12 following the holiday break in an effort to prevent COVID-19 cases.
The mandatory move to at-home learning for older students will start Jan. 4, and parents of students in Kindergarten to Grade 6 can also move their kids to remote learning over the same time period if they choose, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Wednesday.
“We have seen, traditionally, in other places and in Manitoba, where there is (a) holiday break, that the COVID-19 numbers can go up after the break,” Goertzen said Wednesday
“So this provides, from a public health perspective, some additional assurance just to see what those numbers are looking like.”
The province says regular, in-person classroom learning will be available for Kindergarten to Grade 6 students, as well as for any Grade 7 to 12 students with special needs, during the remote learning period.
The switch to remote learning is scheduled to last until Jan. 15 and the province estimates it will keep nearly half of Manitoba’s student population home following the winter break.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, has stated repeatedly that transmission in schools is low, with only a few outbreaks declared.
Many high school students have already been using a mix of in-class and remote instruction since school resumed in September, while most younger students have remained in the classroom.
The province said Wednesday evidence has shown older students are more likely to both contract and spread the virus, because they have a larger number of close contacts.
The change for two weeks in January will be a heavy burden for teachers, especially in the younger grades, the provincial teachers union said.
“It means their workload goes through the roof,” James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, said.
“The idea that a teacher can teach students in the classroom, in front of them, and teach students remotely — and do both those roles successfully at the same time — is like texting and driving. It is impossible to do.”
The Manitoba School Boards Association was more optimistic and said lessons had been learned from the spring when schools were temporarily closed to in-class instruction.
“There’s a lot of really strong infrastructure in place already, so I’ll say it’s not necessarily what the system was expecting, but I’m confident that divisions will be able to adapt,” Alan Campbell, the association’s president, said.
Goertzen said Manitoba school divisions are equipped to provide remote learning, and added the province’s remote learning support centre will be available to help divisions and teachers.
To help cover the increased costs of the move to remote learning, Goertzen also said the province is opening up its $185 million Safe School Fund for divisions.
“The pandemic situation is evolving and the Manitoba government recognizes that our schools may face extraordinary funding pressures in the 2020-21 school year,” said Goertzen in a release.
Made up of $48 million in school divisions savings, $52 million in additional provincial funding, and $85.4 million in federal cash, the fund will be used to hire more staff, pay for new technology, and cover the costs of additional health and safety measures, the province says.
Manitoba has been reporting hundreds of new cases and multiple deaths from COVID-19 every day for weeks, despite strict restrictions closing non-essential businesses and banning large gatherings put in place Nov. 12.
Earlier in the day Wednesday health officials announced 277 new cases of COVID-19, as well as 14 additional deaths.
Since March Manitoba has recorded 17,384 cases and 342 deaths from COVID-19.
–With files from The Canadian PressView link »