Families in some Winnipeg school districts are more likely to choose remote learning for their children than others, data obtained by the Free Press show — with a staggering 16 percentage point difference between opt-in rates in Louis Riel and River East Transcona.
A breakdown of elementary and middle school remote learner data within metro divisions, which only two districts (Louis Riel and Seven Oaks) provided upon request, show even starker differences between buildings.
At Elwick Community School, where K-8 students learn in a residential neighbourhood sandwiched between Inkster Industrial Park, Mynarski and Garden City, 33 per cent of students are doing remote learning.
A 15-minute drive northeast to another K-8 institution in Seven Oaks, West St. Paul School is providing the option to less than one per cent of its student population.
Educators, administrators and parents provided numerous considerations that have driven the important decisions families have been forced to make about their children's’ education throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It’s about trust in the system. It’s about trust in the science. With myself and my wife… we know that the schools are a safe place to be. We know our kids are healthy there," said Greg McFarlane, chairman of the Seven Oaks board.
Louis Riel K-8 student opt-in rates
Early December 2020
Early December 2020
- Windsor School (0.6 per cent)
- École Julie Riel (two per cent)
- École Guyot (three per cent)
- H. S. Paul School (three per cent)
- École Henri-Bergeron (four per cent)
- Archwood School (four per cent)
- Darwin School (four per cent)
- Dr. D.W. Penner School (four per cent)
- École George-McDowell (four per cent)
- École Howden (five per cent)
- École St. Germain (four per cent)
- École Van Belleghem (four per cent)
- École Marie-Anne-Gaboury (four per cent)
- St. George School (four per cent)
- École Provencher (four per cent)
- Frontenac School (five per cent)
- Highbury School (five per cent)
- General Vanier School (six per cent)
- Glenwood School (six per cent)
- Samuel Burland School (six per cent)
- Hastings School (seven per cent)
- Niakwa Place School (seven per cent)
- Nordale School (seven per cent)
- Island Lakes Community School (seven per cent)
- École Varennes (nine per cent)
- Shamrock School (nine per cent)
- Victor Mager School (10 per cent)
- Sage Creek School (11 per cent)
- Minnetonka School (12 per cent)
- Lavallee School (13 per cent)
- Victor H. L. Wyatt School (16 per cent)
- Marion School (19 per cent)
A total of nine Grade 7 and 8 students at Windsor Park Collegiate, as well as 10 students in those grade levels at Collège Béliveau, chose temporary remote learning.
McFarlane sent his two children to learn in the division this fall; citing limited community transmission in schools, he said he was confident about the decision.
The overwhelming majority of families have also kept students enrolled in public school this fall — but many have been given a choice to pivot.
When schools entered the restricted (code orange) level on Manitoba's pandemic response system, divisions started to offer universal remote learning for interested families with elementary and middle years students.
In order to gauge uptake amid the second pandemic wave, the Free Press sought out early December distance learning statistics from Winnipeg, River East Transcona, Pembina Trails, Louis Riel, Seven Oaks, and St. James-Assiniboia.
Seven Oaks K-8 School opt-in rates
Early December 20202
Early December 20202
- Forest Park School (0 per cent)
- West St. Paul School (0.6 per cent)
- O.V. Jewitt Community School (four per cent)
- Arthur E. Wright School (four per cent)
- Edmund Partridge Community School (five per cent)
- H.C. Avery Middle School (five per cent)
- École Seven Oaks Middle (five per cent)
- École Templeton (six per cent)
- Victory School (six per cent)
- R.F. Morrison School (seven per cent)
- James Nisbet Community School (eight per cent)
- Margaret Park School (eight per cent)
- École Belmont (nine per cent)
- Collicutt School (10 per cent)
- Riverbend Community School (10 per cent)
- Leila North School (12 per cent)
- Governor Semple School (13 per cent)
- École Rivière-Rouge (14 per cent)
- Constable Edward Finney School (15 per cent)
- Amber Trails School (17 per cent)
- Elwick Community School (33 per cent)
Three weeks ago, divisions were asked to collect and provide the total number of K-8 students enrolled in temporary remote learning in each of their early and middle years schools. The data collected does not include students learning at home for 2020-21 because of medical exemptions.
Winnipeg, River East Transcona, Pembina Trails and St. James-Assiniboia responded with incomplete data, only offering division-wide opt-in rates for their unique temporary programs.
Overall, Louis Riel had the lowest opt-in rate of all K-8 student populations in English metro divisions, with six per cent of learners choosing to study at home. That figure is 22 per cent in River East Transcona.
Approximately 10 per cent of pupils who were offered remote learning in Seven Oaks, St. James Assiniboia and Winnipeg chose it.
Notably, only half of WSD’s 64 K-8 schools made available remote learning this fall, because the rest of its schools could make room for two metres of physical distancing. Other schools, including all those in LRSD since before Labour Day, have made room for two metres, but still offered a temporary remote program.
Pembina Trails provided data only for its K-6 population, of which 17 per cent is doing distance learning.
Christian Michalik, superintendent at Louis Riel, eventually wants to survey all families that have opted into the division’s home option to pinpoint exactly what factors came into play.
Drawing on anecdotal evidence from talking to parents, Michalik said: "Worry, concern, anxiety relative to the pandemic is an important factor that ebbs and flows."
"The other important factor is parents have to have the wherewithal to actually have a child home, because you do have to have an ability to have an adult (present) — in the case of children under the age of 12."
In Louis Riel, the buildings with the highest opt-in rates include Marion School (19 per cent), Victor H.L. Wyatt School (16 per cent), and Lavallee School (13 per cent). Among those with the lowest remote learner percentages are Windsor School (0.6 per cent), École Julie-Riel (two per cent), and École Guyot (three per cent).
"The other important factor is parents have to have the wherewithal to actually have a child home, because you do have to have an ability to have an adult (present) ‐ in the case of children under the age of 12." ‐ Christian Michalik, superintendent at Louis Riel school board
It’s difficult to draw any "absolute conclusions" because there are so many contributing factors, said Louise Johnston, chairwoman of the LRSD board. For instance, Johnston said, Marion School has a significant Indigenous student population and many of its pupils live in multi-generational dwellings, so learning decisions may require consultation with elders or grandparents.
While noting Marion, Victor H.L. Wyatt and Lavallee are all schools where there are concerns of inequity, Michalik said he doesn’t believe socio-economic factors are driving remote opt-ins in his division.
Sage Creek School, a significantly higher-income suburb in comparison, has a relatively high opt-in rate at 11 per cent.
O’Leary, however, draws the firm conclusion that wealth — which relates to occupation, underlying health factors, and a family’s trust in systems — is a contributing factor in Seven Oaks.
Only three of 466 students at West St. Paul chose temporary at-home learning this fall, in comparison to 133 of the 402 pupils enrolled at Elwick.
For Winnipeg mother Nichole Elvebo, the decision to put her Grade 4 son in virtual school in Sage Creek was made, in part, because her family has "pandemic privilege — no question."
Elvebo and her husband work remotely, they have reliable internet access, and their house has lots of room for everyone to study, play and sleep. Elvebo said her family had a positive experience with e-learning in the springtime and so, when given the opportunity again, they took it.
"We all were concerned about the risk factors of COVID and the long-term effects, which we’re still learning a lot more about," she said, adding they want to hold out for the vaccine.
Education technology coach Leah Obach said COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of face-to-face education for most learners.
"But I do think that the pandemic has illustrated that remote learning can be feasible in some situations and that some students can thrive," said Obach, who is a co-founder of KG Education, a business that provides educators technology-integration training, and a tech coach at Park West School Division.
While Obach doesn’t predict remote learning to ever be as widespread as it is now, she said there will always be a place for it.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.