Manitoba

Teachers, divisions working toward safe return of some Manitoba students this school year

In an effort to stem the shortcomings of distance-learning some students will return to Manitoba classrooms in the second wave of the province's reopening strategy.

'Our hope is that most kids will be getting in every week,' says Seven Oaks superintendent

Manitoba schools could reopen, on a limited basis, to students as early as June. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

Some Manitoba students may soon be returning to classrooms, in an effort to stem the shortcomings of distance-learning spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The draft plan for Phase 2 of the province's reopening strategy, announced Thursday, proposes schools will open again to students for one-on-one instruction, assessments, counselling and other limited programming, as early as June 1. 

"I'm sure the teachers are feeling a wide range of feelings about this," said Nathan Martindale, vice-president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society. 

"We want to make sure that when our members are going back into schools in any scenario, that it's safe, and if students are going back to schools that's obviously safe for them as well."

The proposal also suggests beginning the school year on Aug. 31 and repurposing professional development days, or in-service days, to allow for more instructional days, Premier Brian Pallister said.

It's an idea the union is happy to discuss, Martindale says.

"There's lots of details to be discussed and at the end of the day we hope the government does take our feedback at face value," he said.

Thursday's announcement did not come as a surprise, Martindale said, because the union has been in regular consultation with Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen since schools closed in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In the meantime, it will be up to school divisions to decide how best to accommodate staff and students at schools, within the province's public health guidelines, he said.

Attendance by appointment

Radean Carter, spokesperson for the Winnipeg School Division, said staff have been planning for weeks on what a reopening could look like in the fall.

She admits it's going to be a busy few weeks to get schools ready to welcome some students and staff back to school as early as June.

"It will probably be by appointment only to come into see a teacher or to do some assessment," Carter said. "It's really going to work as a transitioning period for us than an actual right back to school, so it's definitely not business as usual."

Carter said they will be posting signs at schools to remind students to stay apart, wash their hands and screen for symptoms of COVID-19.

The division is also floating the idea of having teachers attend school on alternate days, she said.

"Normally we have very close contact with our students — we have a lot of students and not a lot of space — so the entire idea of social distancing is something that we're going to have to really address," Carter said.

At Seven Oaks School Division, superintendent Brian O'Leary said the province's announcement is welcome news.

"We're really excited about it," he said. "We think that kids are eager to come back into school. Teachers are missing kids. It gives us an opportunity to assess how well kids have fared through the period of remote learning."

His division was already planning to get students back in classrooms by offering summer camps at school as a way to address the shortcomings of remote learning.

WATCH | Safe return of some Manitoba students:

Some Manitoba students may soon be returning to classrooms, in an effort to stem the shortcomings of distance-learning spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:41

O'Leary said Seven Oaks intends to have all teachers returning to schools in June with a limited number of students.

"I anticipate you might see half a class in, or a third of a class in," he said. "Our hope is that most kids will be getting in every week but this is not a full-time return to school at all."

On Thursday, Pallister said a full reopening of schools would not happen before the fall.

"Thoughtful reopening of some schools to allow for in-person coaching, counselling, for in-person instruction as well — that is that is the limit to which we are going," he said. "I'm not going to roll the dice with the children of Manitoba here."

About the Author

Jill Coubrough

Reporter, CBC News

Jill Coubrough is a video journalist with CBC News based in Winnipeg. She previously worked as a reporter for CBC News in Halifax and as an associate producer for the CBC documentary series Land and Sea. She holds a degree in political studies from the University of Manitoba and a degree in journalism from the University of King's College. Email: jillian.coubrough@cbc.ca.

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