School divisions say they’re trying to accommodate teachers stressed by health or child-care challenges, but the Manitoba Teachers’ Society is still panning the government’s decision to partially reopen schools as an unnecessary disruption to remote learning.
MTS president James Bedford said teachers were caught off guard when they learned of the limited reopening of schools beginning June 1, which the province first proposed a week ago.
He argues the move spoils the progress that students and teachers were making in distance education.
“They’re really asking, ‘Why are we returning to our schools in June and disrupting a process that we’ve worked tremendously hard to put in place for two months?'” saying it’s “a process that we’re really beginning to see some great results in.”
The province confirmed on Wednesday the partial reopening of schools would go ahead, after cancelling in-school classes as of March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Full in-school classes “will remain suspended for the remainder of the school year,” the government’s Phase 2 reopening document says, but schools are expected to reopen to allow students to meet with teachers one-on-one or in small groups for instruction, assessments, counselling and other limited programming.
Students will also be allowed to access Wi-Fi and computer equipment in their schools.
The province says schools have to maintain physical distancing of two metres between students in classrooms, with no more than 25 people allowed in any room.
The restricted reopening means teachers are now rushing to find child-care placements they cancelled, Bedford said, because they were led to believe there wouldn’t be in-school instruction again until the fall.
Some teachers will be hauling their personal equipment to school, since their workplaces aren’t equipped with video conferencing, he said.
‘Lost time’ in relocation
“A lot of our members are saying it’s going to result in lost time. They now have to relocate their teaching practices on a daily basis back to a school setting from a home setting where it’s been working very, very effectively,” Bedford said, acknowledging some teachers are ready to be at the head of the classroom again.
Teachers aren’t opposed to returning to the classroom periodically for one-on-one or group instruction, he said, but he questioned the logic of the mandatory return.
Some school divisions, however, are trying to be flexible.
The Winnipeg and River East Transcona divisions are letting teachers split their time 50-50 between school and home.
“Some may prefer to work full-time at school, and they can do so. Others need the flexibility due to their own child-care needs since a full return to class affects them as well,” Winnipeg School Division spokesperson Radean Carter said.
Both divisions said staff will be in school full-time by June 15.
Other school divisions, including Pembina Trails and Seven Oaks, are developing plans for teachers whose personal health or child-care issues are a barrier to return.
Seven Oaks superintendent Brian O’Leary said around 10-20 teachers have health challenges limiting classroom involvement.
“Most of our teachers have been able to find child care,” he said. For the rest, the division is “working through those challenges,” O’Leary said Thursday.
Otherwise, all teachers will be in their classrooms by Monday.
Hanover Teachers’ Association president Wendell Head said Wednesday he was struggling to grasp how overworked teachers who reinvented their jobs would suddenly pivot to in-person learning for the few, while offering distance education for the many.
He wrote a blog post on the association’s website wondering how teachers could handle it, but Head said by Thursday his concerns had eased.
A week without students
Students won’t be in their classrooms in the Steinbach-based school division for the first week of June, giving teachers time to prepare, he said.
Teachers can divide their time between their classroom and home, and those with school-aged children can bring them to school, he added.
“If the division has demonstrated anything here, it’s that they want to make this work [and] they’re going to try and remove obstacles to make it work,” Head said.
Many of Manitoba’s schools are approaching the partial reopening differently.
An elementary school in Seven Oaks School Division is establishing 90-minute blocks of in-class learning for four to five students at a time.
Schools in the St. James-Assiniboia division in Winnipeg are only inviting students in grades 5, 8 and 12 at first, before extending the invitations to other grades.
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