3 schools closed, remote learning for at least 11 Manitoba First Nations

By | August 27, 2020

At least three Manitoba First Nations are keeping schools closed this September and 11 First Nations will offer a combination of in-class and virtual learning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Manitoba First Nation School System left it up to each community and its leadership to decide on a back-to-school plan that was best for them, said Nora Murdock, director of instructional services with the division.

“There’s a variety of scenarios for our schools in terms of how they are starting off the school year,” she said. “There is fear and anxiety, but we’re trying to reassure them that if they are going to enter that school building, that all the protocols will be in place and students are safe when they’re attending.”

Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation, Lake Manitoba First Nation and Lake St. Martin First Nation will keep on-reserve schools closed for in-class instruction this September and instead provide remote learning virtually and through take-home packages.

Schools in Bloodvein, Brokenhead, Dakota Tipi, Dakota Plains, York Factory and Fox Lake Cree Nation are planning to reopen on Sept. 8 and rotate the days students attend in-class and remote learning.

Pinaymootang First Nation and Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nation have delayed school start dates to later in September, but will welcome students back on a staggered basis.

Most schools are implementing a model that will see half of all students attend class two days a week and work at home remotely two days a week, Murdock said. Some schools will close on Friday for deep cleaning, she added.

“The problem that we’re encountering, too, is that some of our schools only go up to Grade 8 or 9, so the high school students have to attend off-reserve into urban centres,” Murdock said. “Many of the parents don’t want to send their student to the provincial school, so we’re being asked to provide those services.”

Students from Fox Lake Cree Nation, which has gone into lockdown following a positive case of COVID-19 in nearby Gillam, will provide students who would normally attend school in Gillam with remote learning options, she said.

The division is registering high school students in remote classes with Wapaska Virtual Collegiate, through the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre.

Remote learning to be accommodated for all

In any case, families who choose to keep a child home this fall and participate remotely will be accommodated, Murdock said.

“We’re listening to what they have to say, and if they want that option of keeping their kids at home, we will be flexible and do our best to provide the remote learning.”

The Manitoba First Nation School System is supplying all schools with masks and personal protective equipment for all students and staff. Schools will adhere to physical distancing guidelines and enhance cleaning including the use of sanitizing fogging machines purchased earlier this year.

Schools will also bring in hand washing and hand sanitizing stations and hire additional cleaning staff, Murdock said.

One school is even considering conducting daily temperature checks on staff, because some teachers live off-reserve and commute to work, she added.

In the event a staff member or student tests positive for COVID-19, Murdock said there is the possibility a school would temporarily close until everyone is tested, not showing symptoms and the school is thoroughly cleaned.

“A lot of the discussions are ongoing and we do provide guidelines in terms of what to do in that case,” she said.

‘We want to listen to the parents’

The return-to-school plans vary from Manitoba’s school system, because schools on First Nations fall under federal jurisdiction. 

Under Manitoba’s plan, students in kindergarten to Grade 8 are expected to return to school full-time beginning Sept.8.

Meanwhile, high school students will be expected to participate in a combination of in-class and remote learning.

Families in the provincial school system will not have the option to do coursework remotely, unless students have a doctors note or families register to home-school their child.

However, thousands of Manitoba parents have signed an online petition pushing for the option to continue with distance learning this school year.

Murdock said the division conducted multiple surveys among parents about what they would like to see, and the re-entry plans in each First Nation are a reflection of those wishes.

“I think the difference is that we want to listen to the parents and listen to the community and respond,” she said.

As of Wednesday, there were 408 active cases of COVID-19 in the province. To date, no cases of COVID-19 have been detected on Manitoba First Nations. 

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