With Manitoba schools headed to a week of remote learning, students, teachers and parents are all trying to find positives in the latest effort at curbing COVID-19 transmission.
The province said Tuesday that the majority of students — aside from those whose parents are considered critical workers — will be staying home until Jan. 17, as cases of the Omicron variant continue to spike.
For Francine Batario, a Grade 12 student at Maples Collegiate, it’s a familiar experience, and a frustrating one after a few months of relative normalcy.
“I was able to connect with my friends again, we were able to hang out during lunch and eat together at a table, or outside in a park,” Batario told 680 CJOB.
“It was relatively normal — kind of the new normal. It was definitely what I thought the whole year was going to look like. The remote learning is not what I was expecting.”
Batario said there’s not a lot of confidence among students that one week will be enough to stem the tide of positive cases.
“My teacher showed us the mass trend of the cases … and I think it’s not really going to slow down, based on how it’s been for a couple of days.
“I don’t think one week is going to be enough — I feel like the one week was kind of a test trial to see if maybe it will go down.
“They’re testing the waters, but I feel like it’s going to be longer than that.”
The Manitoba Pediatric Society has raised concerns that remote learning can have a number of detrimental impacts on students, particularly where their mental health is concerned.
The organization’s president, Dr. Marni Hanna, told 680 CJOB that while taking time for planning and distributing more rapid tests and high-quality masks to schools is a reasonable step, it’s something that provincial health officials should have worked out before it became so urgent.
“It’s very disappointing that these changes were not made in preparation for (the initial) return date of Jan. 10,” Hanna said.
“This is not our first go-around. This has been a recurrent issue. You would think that after this many waves, we’d be better prepared.
“It’s disappointing that we’re back to having these kinds of delays with in-person learning once again, and that there wasn’t more foresight that issues like this would come up.”
Hanna said Manitoba is seeing more children struggling with depression, anxiety, obesity, even eating disorders and suicidal thoughts as a result of the situation they’re in.
“I almost feel more like a psychiatrist at times because of the amount of issues like this coming up.”
Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, acknowledged the potential negative impact of remote learning when the move was announced on Tuesday.
“We know in-person learning is best for students but we are still learning about how the Omicron variant will affect our health-care system and Manitobans in the longer term,” said Atwal said.
“This change will allow us more time to study the data we have and provide any needed additional advice to the education sector and families as we go forward.”
Winnipeg educator Will Penner said the remote learning — even if it lasts just a week, as the province hopes — will require lots of extra work by everyone involved.
He believes the best way to get through it is with open lines of communication.
“Parents shouldn’t hesitate to call schools, call school divisions, call teachers, email teachers … and just have that open line of communication ready,” he said.
Penner said he hopes the distribution of rapid tests will make the Jan. 17 back-to-school date a reality for in-person learning.
“They still need to hit all the subject matter and see all the teachers, and I think that face-to-face contact is really important with all the teachers they have, so we have to plan for that.”