Manitoba parents frustrated by absence of plan for schools amid 3rd wave of COVID-19

Some Manitoba parents say they are frustrated by the absence of a plan for schools, as the province moves to tighter restrictions amid a rising third wave of COVID-19 infections.

New restrictions in place for Manitoba, but no announcement yet on whether schools will go to remote learning

Some Manitoba parents want clarity on how schools will continue amid a growing third wave of COVID-19. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Some Manitoba parents say they are frustrated by the absence of a plan for schools, as the province moves to tighter restrictions amid a rising third wave of COVID-19 infections.

"I was not surprised but felt just furious," said Luanne Karn, a Winnipeg parent and organizer with Parents for Public Education. "They should have had this decision ready about schools. This is a crisis."

On Friday, Dr. Brent Roussin announced a series of new restrictions which come into effect Sunday. Those rules include restricting restaurants to takeout and delivery only, and forcing businesses like gyms and salons to shut down entirely for at least three weeks.

No immediate changes were announced for schools, but Roussin said shutting down classrooms is something the province is "actively looking at."

"We haven't made a decision on that, but we are going to able to provide more information on that in the very near future," he said.

Karn pointed to Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia, which have all moved to remote learning in response to a growing third wave with more contagious coronavirus variants. She wonders what the Manitoba government is waiting for.

"I think we wanted a month ago more restrictions in the community so schools wouldn't have to go remote," Karn said. Now, she wants to see "a hard lockdown in schools for two to four weeks."

According to the provincial data, 478 students and 96 staff members contracted the illness and 17 schools had moved to remote learning in the two weeks prior to May 5.

However, a case in a school does not mean it was acquired or transmitted at school. 

Last week, the Manitoba Teachers' Society called for the province to move all public schools to remote learning and continue until the latest pandemic wave slows, to allow time for staff to be vaccinated and public health measures to take effect.

"We're now at the point where we feel the only way that we can maintain that degree of safety that's necessary, and ensure some continuity in education, is to go through this so-called circuit-breaker shutdown," MTS president James Bedford told CBC News last week.

'A slap in the face to parents'

Christopher Rigaux, who has children in grades 7, 9 and 11, said it's frustrating there was no decision to close schools, with new restrictions coming into place for so many other sectors.

"It boggles my mind," he said. "Honestly, it feels like a bit of a slap in the face to parents that are dealing with the anxieties of wondering if their kids are going to contract this and bring it home to the family."

Rigaux acknowledges the challenges that come with remote learning and said parents need information from the province to prepare.

"Frankly, what we don't need is more confusion," he said. "At least tell us … 'we're likely going to do it, and we're going to work with the schools and school divisions to put a plan in place so you're supported and your kids are supported.'"

Brenda Brazeau, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils, said she was also surprised there was no announcement Friday about schools. She wants a solid plan for students, staff and families.

"Just give us the news and let us deal with it," she said, adding some parents weren't prepared when schools previously moved to remote learning.

"We have single-parent families that don't have people to help them out.… It takes time to prepare that."

Brazeau said she supports whichever move the province makes, as long as students and staff are safe.

Rigaux has made the personal decision to keep his children home amid high COVID-19 case numbers, including 488 new cases reported Saturday and 502 the day before.

Karn said she she will be watching the numbers and making her own risk assessment about whether she will send her nine-year-old daughter back to school Monday.

With files from Peggy Lam and Caitlyn Gowriluk