Remote learning gets team approach from western school divisions
Option only open for K-8 students with compromised health conditions or those living with people at risk
A group of six western Manitoba school divisions are collaborating on a virtual learning model for some students and families with immunocompromised people in their households.
Brandon, Park West, Mountain View, Rolling River, Southwest Horizon and Swan Valley school divisions have formed the Westman Consortia Partnership to offer remote learning for immunocompromised students in kindergarten to Grade 8, the group said in a news release Monday.
The western Manitoba at-home instruction will also be offered to homes where a family member has a vulnerable health condition.
The move comes a week after in-class instruction resumed in the province; one of five COVID-19 cases that emerged in the days since was in a Brandon school.
Virtual learning through school boards in Manitoba is only being offered to students in households where medical advice has been given that they not attend school.
Some parents have taken issue with this rule because they'd like a virtual option for their children who aren't eligible under the current guidelines. Home-schooling numbers have also risen.
The western Manitoba school divisions collaborating on the virtual classroom will pool resources and staff for remote learning.
The divisions are still working with school communities to determine who will get remote learning. Eligible families will be notified by early next week to formalize plans.
The at-home learning will begin on Thursday and Friday and will have a staggered start, the group said.
'Basic problem' persists for Brandon family
One Brandon family suggested it's a positive sign to see divisions band together in this way, but the virtual offering still comes up short for their son.
Bruce Strang and Nancy Hennen's high-school-age son Sean is immunocompromised and lives with Down syndrome.
They plan to file a human rights complaint against the Brandon School Division and the province, regardless of the new model.
The couple argues both are discriminating against immunocompromised students by not offering them adequate supports to enable them to safely learn in schools.
Strang said the consortia approach could prove effective in western Manitoba, if there are only a handful of immunocompromised students scattered across all the divisions there, but it still leaves Sean to learn from home without needed supports.
"It doesn't address the basic discrimination of immunocompromised students, that they're being forced out of the classrooms by a government that has made no effort to try and accommodate them in the classroom — that's the biggest issue," said Strang, a history professor at Brandon University and president of the Brandon University Faculty Association.
"This is kind of … arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic more artfully and more wisely, but it doesn't get to the basic problem."
Largest division plans virtual classroom option
In Winnipeg, Manitoba's largest school division is working on rolling out its own virtual learning model.
The Winnipeg School Division has 78 schools with more than 32,000 students and more than 4,500 staff members.
"The virtual classroom teachers will not have the added work of a full-time in-person class and can focus their teaching on their online students," Winnipeg School Division spokesperson Radean Carter said in a statement on Tuesday.
Virtual learning is expected to be up and running soon. Until then, students who have been approved for remote learning by a medical professional will receive learning packages.
There are currently 126 students — 99 in English and 27 in French Immersion — signed up to take part in the virtual school, though those numbers may change, Carter said.
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson