Winnipeg school divisions release pandemic plans

By | August 17, 2020

WINNIPEG — School divisions in Winnipeg have released their plans for students to return to the classroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting this September, most kindergarten to grade 12 students will continue varying levels of in-class instruction.

Most of the plans mirror the blueprint set out by the province, but there are some differences between divisions, especially when it comes to high schools.

For most kindergarten to Grade 8 students in Winnipeg, in-class instruction will happen five days a week. High school students will see a mix of in-school and remote learning, depending on their division and their school.

“With high school kids they’re in different classes with different peers virtually every course they take,” said Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O’Leary. “So we can’t keep them in an educational bubble, in a classroom bubble, like we can with younger kids.”

In Seven Oaks, most students in Grades 9 through 12 will have in-class instruction on alternating days.

“Teachers all have webcams and will be teaching online, in real-time when students are at home,” said O’Leary. “We’ll also be providing some study spaces, again following social distancing, for students who like to work at school on the off-day.”

Kindergarten to Grade 8 students in the Winnipeg School Division will return to daily classes while Grades 9 through 12 will return to school to the “greatest extent possible,” according to the division, but schedules will vary.

“It’s going to depend on each school, how many students they have, how much space they have,” said Winnipeg School Division spokesperson Radean Carter.

Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer announced last week the province is strongly recommending masks for staff and students in Grades 5 through 12, and is making them mandatory for that group when they’re riding the bus.

Seven Oaks will provide every Grade 5 to 12 students with three masks and also provide masks to staff. A supply of disposable masks will also be available, O’Leary said.

The Winnipeg School Division said masks will be available for children who forget theirs, but families are being asked to provide their own reusable masks for their kids.

“One of the things I think parents and guardians are going to have to look at is introducing masks into their children’s wardrobe as something like, I keep using the analogy, a pair of socks,” said Carter.

The St. James-Assiniboia School Division said Grades 9 through 12 will start off by attending school on alternating days, but on Sep.28, the division said students may return to in-class learning every day. Decisions will be made on a class-by-class basis, the division said.

The Louis Riel School Division said some Grade 9 to 12 students could also return to school for up to five days a week if physical distancing is possible.

The plan released by the Pembina Trails School Division calls for high school students to attend class, in-person, a minimum of two days per school day cycle and do remote learning when physical distancing isn’t possible.

The River East Transcona School Division said high schools are working on adjusting timetables to reflect safety guidelines and the curriculum.

More details are expected from individual schools before the beginning of the new school year.

CAMPAIGN CALLS ON PROVINCE TO DO MORE

The school division plans were released as the calls from the community grow louder for the Manitoba government to bolster its back to school planning to make things safer.

Liz Kessler, a concerned community member, and Lauren Hope, a teacher and parent, are helping lead a campaign called #safeseptembermb. 

“This plan can only be implemented if it’s funded and that’s what we’re missing to do any of the things that the school divisions need to be able to implement a safe back to school,” said Hope. “We keep hearing about this Restart Manitoba campaign and there is no Restart Manitoba campaign without a safe restart to schools.”

Hope pointed out the plan should include equity for all families, noting that while she has the ability to keep her child at home to do homeschooling if she chooses, not all parents have the ability to do so.

The group started a petition calling on the government to revise its school reopening plan to make masks mandatory, cap class sizes and provide more support for remote learning, among other changes.

“I’m hearing a lot of parents say they have to consider keeping their kids home in order to keep their kids safe but also their families safe,” said Kessler.

Kessler, who said she lives with a learning disability herself, wants the province to do more to make sure children living with physical or intellectual disabilities receive support in school or at home.

“Kids with disabilities really need a lot of specific attention from their teachers,” said Kessler. “What we need is to have resources put towards the plan.” 

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