Manitoba

Possible reduced school week adds challenges for working parents, rural Manitoba mom says

Educators want students back in classes, too — but schools need to strike a balance between bringing kids back and making sure they’re following public health directives, says Cathy Tymko, superintendent of the Sunrise School Division.

Sunrise School Division wants small groups back for alternating half days come September

The Sunrise School Division east of Winnipeg has asked parents to prepare for a school year that will have students come back to in-person classes in groups (or cohorts) on alternating days, for half a day at a time. (BlurryMe/Shutterstock)

One rural Manitoba mom said she felt "frustration and anger" this week when she got a letter from the Sunrise School Division about what her sons' schedules could look like come September.

As Lise Turenne gets ready to go back to work part-time, the Anola mom said she's worried about the division's proposal that asked parents to prepare for a school year that will have students come back to in-person classes in groups, or cohorts. 

In a letter sent to parents on Friday, the division said students would attend school on alternating days, for half a day at a time.

On Thursday, the province announced its plans for a September return to school, when it hopes to have students back in the classroom. The government asked schools to come up with three possible scenarios: a full return to classes with relaxed physical distancing, a continuation of the distance learning students have been doing since March or a plan that mixes elements of both.

For the mom of two boys in Grade 2 and Grade 6, the thought of finding childcare every other day presents a challenge for when classes start up again.

"[Finding] childcare for June and for summertime has been quite frustrating, and I was hoping with the children returning back to school in September that would end. But now this is making it another difficult situation for me," Turenne told CBC Up to Speed host Marjorie Dowhos on Friday.

"I don't know, as a parent, what I'm supposed to do."

Turenne said her husband has been working from home but will also have to go back to work soon, and they don't have parents or close family who could take over babysitting on the days Turenne is back at work as a dental hygienist. On top of that, most daycare spots are already taken up by parents working full-time, she said.

Schools in Manitoba have been sitting mostly empty amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. For parents like Lise Turenne, the thought of finding childcare for a few days a week come September is daunting. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Turenne said she wants her sons to go back to school full-time in the fall, and she's been hearing the same thing from other parents.

"The children need to be back in school. They need normalcy," Turenne said. "They want to be with their friends."

Turenne said she understands the fear of spreading COVID-19 if schools open back up, but people are starting to see each other more anyway while keeping physical distancing in mind — so keeping kids away from each other at school doesn't mean they won't still see other kids elsewhere.

"We can't continue to live in a bubble," she said. "We have to learn to live with it. Our numbers are low. They're opening up provinces. They're opening up businesses. Why can't we open up the schools?"

Division 'hopeful that things will change'

Educators want students back in classes, too — but schools need to strike a balance between bringing kids back and making sure they're following public health directives, said Cathy Tymko, superintendent of the Sunrise School Division.

"We agree the best place for students to be to learn is in school," Tymko said on Up to Speed Friday.

Most schools will need to be rearranged to make sure they can follow those rules, which include keeping students two metres apart, she said. The letter the school division sent to parents was to prepare them for the worst-case scenario.

"We're really hopeful that things will change, that all Manitobans will follow the health directives, that we'll all do our part and we will be able to have all students back all days in the fall," Tymko said.

"Having said that, I think we have to be prepared for possibilities of second waves, or possibly that we might not be in the boat where we can loosen health directives. So we're trying to come up with a plan that lets us throttle up and throttle down."

School division officials have been meeting with principals every week this month to come up with a plan that will work for everyone — a task that presents its own challenges, she said.

The Sunrise School Division covers a wide geographical area in the province, with most students taking the bus to get to school, says superintendent Cathy Tymko. New rules on how many students are allowed to be on a school bus at once present even more challenges for the division, which covers schools from Dugald to Powerview. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"The difficult part is that if we can't have all of the students in the school all of the time, the teachers then also have to have some time to do that remote learning for the time that kids aren't in school," Tymko said.

"So they've got to split their time between the kids we have in the building and ... kids [who] aren't in school."

Tymko said the school division covers a wide geographical area in the province, with some students travelling close to an hour to go to school and most taking the bus to get there.

Because of that, new rules for how many students are allowed to be on a school bus at once present even more challenges for the division, which covers schools from Dugald to Powerview, she said.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said Lise Turenne is from Altona. In fact, Turenne is from Anola.
    Jun 27, 2020 3:39 PM CT

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