Manitoba parents still in dark with less than 2 weeks to school start

Some parents say their school divisions' plan for fall is too vague, and they aren't getting the answers they need to make sure their children will be safe when they return to school on September 8.

Parents push for more specifics on what their children will be going back to

Clark is hoping her son Jace will have the option of remote learning when schools start up on September 8. (Mandie Clark)

Mandie Clark says she's still in the dark about what her son's return to school will look next month, after the school division released a plan she said holds more questions than answers.

"It's like a copy and paste form letter of what the province announced. No details for specific schools," said Clark, a parent in the Pembina Trails School Division.

"I contacted the school to get some answers to alleviate my anxiety, worry and concern," she said, but she hasn't heard back.

Clark's seven-year-old son Jace is going into Grade 3 at École Van Walleghem School. He has ADHD and anxiety and seeks stimulation by putting things in his mouth, Clark says.

"Will he be forced to sit in a desk all day? What kind of consideration is being made for special needs students in the classroom? What about his self-stimulation? " she asked.

Clark isn't alone. Other Manitoba parents said they're left with unanswered questions, with less than two weeks to go before school is set to begin on Sept. 8.

Clark thinks physical distancing will be tough when Jace's cohort includes a total of 78 children. Too many kids, too many chances for contact, she says. 

She's hoping to have the option for Jace to study at home. During the lockdown, he excelled academically and his confidence grew, and his school acknowledged those achievements. But she doesn't know if that option will still be on the table.

In her eyes, the back-to-school doesn't make sense. Her workplace and her husband's are both closed indefinitely. Both parents are working from home. 

"If it is not safe for either of us to be in the workplace, why am I being forced to send my child to school?" she asked.

'Regular nightmares'

Rebecca Waddell is facing some of the same tough questions with no answers or specifics. She has three daughters, all at École Van Walleghem School.

She doesn't know if 10-year-old Vivian will have a band class this year.  The idea of blowing air into an instrument in a room with other students makes her uneasy.

Plans for for her youngest, Ruth, who is going to kindergarten, still aren't clear. Will it be a half-day or full day? How will rooms will be sanitized in between classes? On top of those looming questions, she says, her kids are anxious about going back and having bad dreams.

"Regular nightmares. My 10-year-old and my six-year-old are having nightmares and worries. It's more that this is on their mind. They are having dreams about it where normally they would just be excited to go back. This year, they seem a little reserved," said Waddell.

Rebecca Waddell is wondering if her 10-year-old daughter Vivian will have band this fall, and what kindergarten will look like for four-year-old Ruth. (Submitted by Rebecca Waddell)

Waddell also brings another perspective to the table. She's a teacher in Winnipeg in another division and home-schooled her three girls while doing remote learning with her students.

"It was hard. Really hard. But I do think we can return to school safely," she said. "Still, so much is up in the air. I think it is going to take smaller groups, a gradual return to the classroom with more space and an online option."

That is exactly what Verla Umpherville is pushing for. Her son is in Grade 10 at St. James Collegiate in the St.James-Assiniboia School Division.

Since Grade 2, he's had to miss several weeks of school due to his asthma.

"When he gets it, he struggles to breath. He has a compromised immune system. I am worried if someone has COVID and doesn't know it, he will get it and it will be a lot worse for him," said Umpherville.

"I am super worried about it, and I am not getting any answers from the school," she said.

Umpherville hired a tutor to work with her son during the lockdown, even though she is a single parent on a tight budget.

She is trying to decide if it is better for him to learn at home this fall or go back.

"If he doesn't go to school and see his friends, it will affect his mental health. Do I look at that or do I look at the asthma?" Umpherville said. "It's like being caught between a rock and a hard place."

Divisions respond

Mike Wake, the superintendent of the St. James School Division, says the division is working closely with public health and Manitoba Education to follow all health protocols and make sure students are safe.

Wake assures parents students with compromised immune systems will be accommodated with remote learning. 

Over at Pembina Trails, Superintendent Ted Fransen also confirms remote learning will be an option for those with compromised immune systems.

Fransen says classrooms are being measured, floors are being marked and students with special needs will still have educational assistants.

"We are sensitive to the fact there is a lot of anxiety and angst among parents," Fransen said. "We are doing all we can to give students a safe welcoming environment when they come back."

This story was possible thanks to Manitobans who filled out CBC's back-to-school survey. In it, we asked parents, teachers and students to send us their top concerns and questions about the unprecedented school year ahead.


Born and raised in Winnipeg, Marianne has always had a passion for seeking the truth. She began her career anchoring and reporting at CKX Brandon. From there she worked in both TV news and current affairs at CBC Saskatoon. For the past 25 years Marianne has worked in Winnipeg, both in radio and television. She was formerly a teacher in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.


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