Manitoba

Parents in Winnipeg brace themselves for 1st day of at-home learning

As of Wednesday, all kindergarten to Grade 12 schools in Winnipeg and Brandon have moved to remote learning until May 30.

All Winnipeg, Brandon K-12 schools move to remote learning until May 30

Parent Megan Slaunwhite has been concerned about the rising case numbers and supports the switch to online learning. She says it isn't easy teaching her son Dylan, a Grade 3 student, though. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Outside Machray School, there was laughter and shouting Tuesday, as elementary school kids played to celebrate class finishing for the day. For some, there was also a sense of sadness.

Starting Wednesday, the playground will be quiet as all kindergarten to Grade 12 schools in Winnipeg and Brandon switch to remote learning. In-person classes are suspended until at least May 30, with some exceptions for the children of critical service workers, students deemed high risk and those who have certain disabilities.

"The girls really love school and they're not looking forward to not seeing their friends every day," said Shalane Demas, who has three daughters at Machray, a school in Winnipeg's North End.

"It's just better for them learning here."

Her girls, who are in kindergarten to Grade 3, got their first experience with remote learning when the pandemic first hit Manitoba last March. It wasn't a positive experience, Demas said; her girls only got about half an hour a day of at-home instruction.

"I'm worried they're going to be left behind now," she said. "They should be learning more by now, and it's falling back lots since this whole COVID."  

Shalane Demas has three daughters who attend classes at Machray School. The girls will start learning remotely on Wednesday. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Demas hopes their experience will be better over the next few weeks. The school gave her two Chromebooks to take home Tuesday for the three girls to share.

The switch to remote learning comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise in Manitoba. On Tuesday, Manitoba's seven-day average for daily cases reached 427, passing a high of 424 set during the province's second pandemic wave.

School-age children make up 20 per cent of the province's total cases, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin told reporters Sunday.

He said as of May 6, there had been a 25 per cent increase in cases involving school staff, and a 67 per cent increase in student cases over a two-week period.

In the two weeks leading up to May 9, there were 598 COVID-19 cases involving school-aged students and 117 involving school staff in Manitoba, according to provincial data.

A total of 255 schools reported one or more cases, but the province notes a case in a school doesn't mean it was acquired there.  

"Honestly I didn't even know it was that high," said Demas. "I'm shocked.… Maybe it [remote learning] could be the best thing right now, I guess. I just don't want it to keep lasting forever."

Schools safe: deputy chief health officer

The shift to remote learning was announced on Sunday.

At a technical briefing that afternoon, deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal maintained schools themselves were safe.

"Public health isn't worried about the act of being at school. It's everything else that surrounds that — getting to school, what happens after school, what happens with those individuals when they're not at school," he said.

"I've dropped my kids off. I see four kids from four different households getting out of one car. We see things like this. Those are the issues that are occurring where that risk is propagated."

Parent Megan Slaunwhite has been concerned about the rising case numbers and supports the switch to remote learning for her son.

"It's a little easier than having to bring him there, and I don't like having to worry about the whole COVID thing every time. And he's excited about it."  

But Slaunwhite says her son, who is in Grade 3 at Machray, struggled previously with remote learning.

She struggled to play the role of a teacher and thought the at-home learning materials could have been more complete. 

Her son also likes going to school, she said.

"He was very emotional, a lot more than usual, and he just missed everything about it.… It was kind of rough for a bit there."

Education Minister Cliff Cullen said the goal is to get students back into the classroom before the end of the year.

The government is expected to open vaccine eligibility to everyone 12 and up by May 21. Earlier this month, the vaccine team said they should be able to get those shots into arms by June 15.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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