Manitoba

Mother of 4 says Manitoba's back-to-school plan will expose her family to over 100 people daily

A Winnipeg mother and student teacher is concerned about students returning to school, as university students resume courses online and the Manitoba Legislative Assembly will not sit until October.

Working at same time as pickup and drop-off for children at different schools is another challenge

Alice McKay, a mother of four, says the province's return to school plan lacks clarity, including on how children will keep a safe distance. (Submitted by Alice McKay)

A Winnipeg mother and student teacher is concerned about students returning to school, as university students resume courses online and the Manitoba Legislative Assembly will not sit until October.

Alice McKay, a single parent of four, believes the return to school flies in the face of public health advice to physically distance and limit contact with others during COVID-19.

"It's super stressful," she said. "To me, it feels like our teachers and students are kind of being used as guinea pigs."

Her household will be exposed to more than 100 people per day, as her children in grades 3, 5, 7 and 8 head back to classrooms in September, and she begins her in-class teaching practicum, she said. 

"Not just like, you know, passing them at the grocery store or something, but into close contact," she said. "And who knows how many people those hundred people came into contact with?"

A number of divisions released detailed plans Monday about the resumption of classes on Sept. 8.

Students in kindergarten to Grade 8 will return five days a week and learning will be done in cohorts, to limit contact with the larger student population. High school students will alternate days between online and in-class learning to reduce the number of students in class at one time.

Masks will be strongly recommended but not mandatory among students in grades 5-12.

Parents who don't wish to send their children will have to register for home-schooling through the province instead.

McKay said the plan leaves parents without any option if they don't feel comfortable sending their child back, unless they have the ability to home-school them.

Plans don't outline protocol for positive cases

It also leaves out answers to important details, she said, including what happens in the event a student or teacher tests positive.

The Winnipeg School Division, where her children attend, said it plans to notify the school community if someone tests positive and encourage anyone in the same cohort to get tested.

What's not certain is whether the people in the classroom or cohort will be required to self-isolate.

Other divisions, such as Seven Oaks, said positive cases will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Dr. Brent Roussin previously said in the event of a positive case, public health officials would conduct contact-tracing and identify staff or students who would be considered close contacts and required to isolate. A school closure would be a last resort, he said. 

McKay's biggest concern is the inability to maintain a safe distance from other students in the classroom.

"I don't know how much space they think there is in a classroom." she said. "I just don't see it being possible."

School population adds up quickly

Her eldest children attend a junior high and high school with a student population of 1,300. She knows there will be fewer students, as the older students alternate days on site, but with teachers, support staff, administration and cleaning staff, it adds up.

She also wonders how the logistics of pickups and drop-offs will work, as parents are encouraged to drive their children to school to reduce the number of kids on buses.

In fact, she is not sure how she will drop off and pick up her children at different schools and be at her practicum, all with the same start and end time, she said.

In the past, her oldest children used public transit, something she is not comfortable continuing during the pandemic.

Tweets blocked

McKay took her concerns to Twitter and the Manitoba government, tweeting Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen on his personal page on Aug. 14. 

She received no response.

"[I] was promptly blocked," she said. "I don't think I said anything offensive."

In an email, a spokesperson for the minister said "Minister Goertzen and his family share a personal Twitter account. It's noted in the bio information for the Twitter account that it's a personal family account, and that government messages should be left on his government account," the statement said. "There are no individuals blocked from the government account."

McKay said she reached out to his personal page after seeing that his official government page states it's run by his staff, not him personally.

The rising number of COVID-19 cases and a lack of options for parents to continue with remote learning makes a return to school feel contradictory, she said.

"I've lost track of how many times Dr. Brent Roussin said, you know, we've got to go back to the fundamentals," she said. "But when we were doing those so-called fundamentals, school was closed."

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