Manitoba K-12 schools close indefinitely due to COVID-19
Teachers will continue to educate students remotely, minister says
Classes for kindergarten to Grade 12 students in Manitoba are suspended indefinitely for this school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced Tuesday morning.
Teachers will continue to teach remotely, assign work, conduct assessments and prepare report cards, he said.
Grades will be held at what they were before the classes were suspended, but students will still have the opportunity to improve their grades, he said.
All students who are on track to graduate will do so, and no students will be held back because of the pandemic, Goertzen said.
For students in Grade 12, provincial exams also will be cancelled "because they would not be a meaningful measure of a student's efforts for this year," given the circumstances, the education minister said.
Goertzen said he knows this was not how Grade 12 students envisioned their last year of school, and he recognizes this "is a decision that is not without consequence."
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"I want Grade 12 students to know and understand that while they may have some disappointment, the decisions that are being made today are made because we know they have an amazing future ahead of them," he said.
"We want to ensure that they can reach their fullest potential, and that those they love the most are here to see them reach those great achievements."
'It's pretty heart-wrenching': Grade 12 student
Aeden Loschiavo, 18, is trying to stay on track to graduate from Kelvin High School.
"There's still a chance that we get back into the end of the school year, but as of right now I think it's pretty heart-wrenching," he said.
The province could reopen schools before the end of June if the chief public health officer determines it's safe to do so, the education minister said, but the provincial government doesn't want to extend the school year into the summer.
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Goertzen prefers to have students go back to a "more normal existence" this summer, and then start the school year in a more traditional way in fall.
"In the event that we don't go back to school at all, it's really scary and really disappointing as well," said Loschiavo.
"You work for the four years trying to get up to this point and you see it slowly being taken away from you, piece by piece."
The Grade 12 student said his peers are "missing huge chunks" when it comes to doing regular tests and assignments, which puts them at a disadvantage.
"A lot of students are really nervous about that, and are worried how it's going to impact their learning."
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A top concern for seniors is whether they will be able to get the grades required for acceptance at post-secondary institutions, Loschiavo said.
"It's just eating kids alive because it can impact the rest of their lives if they can't get into a program because of this."
Meanwhile, the milestone social events students look forward to all year — things like school spirit week, spring sports leagues and senior skip day — are being washed away.
Goertzen also said Tuesday that convocation and grad ceremonies would fall under the provincial ban on gatherings of over 10 people.
Loschiavo predicts there will be an uproar if official graduation ceremonies are cancelled.
"I don't think you could justify not giving us a time slot to walk across the stage and earn that moment."
Parents are also upset about the possibility they won't get to see those moments, he said.
"To see that kind of being put in jeopardy, it's really tough for them — and it's tough for us because you work so hard for it."
Learning to continue through online, distance education
Child-care centres in schools will continue to operate under the current guidelines, which allow some centres to remain open to serve health-care workers and other essential front-line workers.
The province had previously closed schools for kindergarten to Grade 12 students for one week before spring break and one week after, leaving students out from March 23 until April 13.
Premier Brian Pallister, who joined Goertzen at Tuesday's news conference, said the strength of the community and the province's ability to bounce back after the pandemic depends on making sure children remain engaged in their education.
That means being "resilient financially, resilient socially as we face the challenges that are presented to us by this pandemic, like the Manitoba bison faces the storm: head-on, protecting its young," Pallister said.
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Students are expected to continue learning and the province is working with teachers to find solutions for teaching outside the classroom, Goertzen said.
Core courses will be available online for high school students, while the province will be scaling up online courses for kindergarten to Grade 8.
Teachers have been asked to connect regularly with students, using tools like Zoom and other technology.
Though there isn't currently a universal online tool for students in Manitoba, the province will work with school divisions to provide the best support possible for students and families who may not have access to the technology needed for online learning, Goertzen said.
"That doesn't mean that it's going to be exactly equal or perfect in every part of the province, and we are going to have some catch-up to do when normal classes resume," he said.
"There's no question about that."
'I do the best I can': parent
More announcements will be made in the coming weeks about additional supports for distance and online learning, Goertzen said.
Kaitlin Davey is a mother of two students in grades 1 and 4. One of her children already struggles with learning, and she fears both could fall behind their peers if parents and students do not receive more support at home.
Juggling a new routine and teaching kids at two different levels has not been easy for Davey, who did not graduate herself.
"I don't have all the resources that they need to teach them myself. I do the best I can. So I think that is the big struggle," she said.
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The president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society said he was not surprised by Tuesday's announcement, adding it was "a bit of a relief" given similar decisions made in other provinces.
But James Bedford said "it's certainly a challenge" as educators and students try to adapt to staying connected from a distance.
Teachers have been turning to the union's website and social media to share homework ideas and innovative ways to maintain contact with students for the long haul.
School divisions have been asked to reassign support staff when possible, Goertzen said Tuesday, but it will be up to the divisions whether they have to lay off people.
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With files from Bartley Kives and Holly Caruk