WINNIPEG — The smoke has cleared and Manitobans have a clearer picture of what back to school will look like comes September.
The province looking at everything from physically distanced classrooms to staggered recesses, but with the plan now out, questions and concerns are being raised.
Wab Kinew, Leader of the NDP opposition, said this new plan puts a lot more work and stress on parents throughout the province.
“The PC government is asking parents to do a whole heck of a lot, but isn’t really providing much support,” said Kinew.
He said this new plan is asking parents to do everything from transport their kids, to staying home with them if they are sick and even homeschool them if needed.
“But the province hasn’t stepped up with enough in the way of investments to help with more teachers, more classrooms, more protective equipment.”
Kinew is also voicing some concerns regarding the finances for the school divisions. The province said school divisions were able to save $48 million and that will be used to help get schools “COVID-ready.”
“When you look at the per-pupil number though, it’s only maybe $220, $240, per student, per year. That may not be enough even to cover the cleaning and protective equipment costs for a given school. So where is the extra money to do mental health supports, clinical supports, and provide additional teaching resources in schools?”
James Bedford, who is the president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, is also asking some questions about the financial situations of school divisions.
“I certainly hope the province is there to support school divisions if they don’t have the necessary funds, or they find they need more money throughout the school year,” said Bedford.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont also echoes the concerns Bedford and Kinew have about the finances.
“Given the upheaval, the PCs should be willing to commit new money and not just expect school divisions to rely on “savings.” Education funding has been frozen for four years straight and this will be a major effort that requires investment,” Lamont said in an emailed news release.
One of the other concerns Bedford has expressed is how teachers will handle the workload if they have students who are in class and also learning electronically from home.
“Both those learning activities won’t take place at the same time. So as a classroom teacher, if I have some of my students in a classroom in front of me and some of those students learning remotely, that really doubles the workload,” said Bedford, who added this will be a significant challenge and this will not be like it was at the end of this past school year.
“At the end of the previous school year, all the students were learning remotely. So, members were not having to conduct, if you will, two parallel classes.”
Bedford and Lamont also have raised questions about substitute teachers.
“So, do we have a supply of substitute teachers who will be able to be there in the absence of a teacher,” said Bedford, “And what are the rules that are going to surround those absences. How long will a teacher be away, and what will be the specific rules the substitutes will follow?” said Bedford.
“There needs to be a plan to recruit and retain substitute teachers, especially in French schools. If teachers have to self-isolate, there needs to be people ready to step in and there was already a shortage of teachers,” said Lamont.
Bedford said what the province announced was expected and that he knew the government wasn’t going to have all the answers right away.
He added now that it has been announced, it needs to be fleshed out more.
“I think there is a reason to be optimistic that we worked very well up to this point in time, and we’re going to continue to have those positive conversations,” said Bedford.
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