2-week remote-learning period for Manitoba Grade 7-12 students coming after winter break
Mandatory remote learning for older students starts Jan. 4, will be optional for K-6
Manitoba students from Grade 7 to 12 will shift to remote learning for two weeks following the winter break as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, Manitoba's education minister says.
The two-week remote-learning period, starting Jan. 4 and continuing to Jan. 15, will be mandatory for students in grades 7 to 12, and will also be an option for kindergarten to Grade 6 students if families want to keep younger kids at home, Minister Kelvin Goertzen said at a Wednesday news conference.
"These decisions, we know have various impacts," he said.
"They're not made lightly … but they are made in consultation with public health and with the understanding that we believe, and still believe, that the best place for students to learn is in the classroom where it is safe to do so."
In a news release announcing the shift, the province said the preventative measure is focused on grades 7 to 12 because older students tend to have more contacts, and so have a higher likelihood of transmitting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
In addition, the province said those students are more amenable to online learning.
The mandatory shift to remote learning for Grade 7-12 students will keep close to half of the province's student body at home, the province said.
Manitoba is currently under a strict lockdown barring visitors to homes. Stores are also prohibiting the purchase of non-essential items due to the high COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations.
On Wednesday, the province reported there are 351 people in hospital, including 51 in intensive care, marking yet another new record.
Previously, health officials acknowledged the province was mulling the possibility of extending the winter break to offset some transmission that may have occurred over the holiday, but Goertzen said students need to keep up their education.
"We want to keep students learning … whether that's remotely or in the classroom, the key is we don't want the education of our young students to stop."
School safety an issue, critics say
Critics are worried not enough is being done to ensure the safety of Manitoba schools.
"Whether schools are safe or not, we don't actually know," said Dougald Lamont, the leader of the Manitoba Liberals. "We're not actually doing the testing and the contact tracing to be able to tell whether there's transmission in schools or not."
The education critic for the Manitoba NDP, Nello Altomare, said the province should implement asymptomatic testing in schools.
"Right now it's all based on data that's incomplete."
Goertzen said the decision to begin remote learning after the scheduled break was made to allow some time to shift to remote learning, and also to ensure COVID-19 numbers don't spike after the return to school.
"We have seen traditionally in other places, and in Manitoba … that the COVID-19 numbers can go up over the break. This provides, from a public health perspective, some additional assurance just to see what those numbers are looking like," he said.
Province not sure if shift will continue after 2 weeks
Goertzen couldn't say with certainty if the remote-learning period will continue after the two weeks are over.
"Making predictions during a pandemic has proven not to be a good business to be in," he said.
"But our priority is to have schools operating."
Regardless, there will be supports for teachers and students during this period, the province said.
Deputy education minister Dana Rudy said the previously announced resource centre to support remote learning will be in place by Jan. 4 to assist students with their studies while they're at home.
The province said they were in the process of hiring up to 140 people who will be employed to support teachers delivering remote learning by providing learning programs, professional development opportunities, instructional coaching and technology supports.
Early last month, about 500 teachers signed a letter saying they're at a breaking point and desperate for more staff in schools.
WATCH | Manitoba education officials announce two-week remote-learning period: