July 13, 2020

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Province plans partial reopening of schools

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Students and teachers will return to schools in a limited capacity for one-on-one instruction and small group sessions next month, as per the province's reopening blueprint, which also proposes an early start to the 2020-21 school year, ahead of Labour Day.

On Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister unveiled a wide-ranging draft of the second phase of Restoring Safe Services, which would see more non-essential businesses reopen, expand childcare capacity and allow for some use of school facilities.

Seven Oaks Division leads way with partial reopening

At least one Winnipeg school division expects all staff and students to return to their respective schools in June as the province enters the second phase of its reopening plan.

In a memo sent to Seven Oaks School Division staff Thursday, Superintendent Brian O'Leary wrote that the division expects it will "return to a more normal routine" on June 1.

Starting next month, division schools will open to the public during regular hours, staff will be required to work at their school and students will be able to visit as invited, while observing social distancing protocols.

At least one Winnipeg school division expects all staff and students to return to their respective schools in June as the province enters the second phase of its reopening plan.

In a memo sent to Seven Oaks School Division staff Thursday, Superintendent Brian O'Leary wrote that the division expects it will "return to a more normal routine" on June 1.

Starting next month, division schools will open to the public during regular hours, staff will be required to work at their school and students will be able to visit as invited, while observing social distancing protocols.

"It it hoped that all students will be able to attend school at the very least once a week and that students who have struggled with remote learning and need more attention and support will attend often enough to get the help they need," O'Leary wrote, adding that he hopes staff, students and families gain comfort and assurance through the limited return.

The memo states groups will be limited to a maximum of 24 students — a number that will only be allowed to congregate in gymnasiums or outside areas — while most classrooms will only be able to accommodate a third or half of their typical capacity. It also states that most students will continue to learn from home and teachers will be expected to support remote learning through to mid-June.

The latter part of June, according to the memo, will be used for continuing direct instruction and support and for reporting and transition activities.

– Maggie Macintosh

This spring, teachers — who have been on their own learning curves with e-learning throughout the last two months — will be able to provide in-person instruction to students who have struggled with distance learning, the premier said.

According to the draft plan, the next phase would allow students to meet with teachers for the purpose of assessment and creating remedial learning plans. As well, students would be able to access school WiFi, computer equipment and counselling services in June.

Schools will be required to maintain physical distancing measures, including limiting capacity to 50 per cent below normal levels, creating a designated entrance and ramping up washroom sanitation.

"Teachers miss their students and wish they were back in the classroom, but it all circles back to number one: safety," said Nathan Martindale, vice-president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

Martindale said MTS plans to discuss the draft with both its members and provincial officials. Personal protective equipment for staff will be among the agenda items, he said.

Kamal Dhillon, who teaches English and social studies at Garden City Collegiate, said she doubts she’ll end up meeting students in-person before autumn because of all the time and work she has put into the online transition. She continues to check in with students via phone calls while some students, she said, have completely unplugged, owing to pandemic-related stresses.

"A lot of kids would inevitably be left out," Dhillon said about the plan to allow for some in-person instruction this spring, adding that many of her students have already returned home to their remote northern communities.

“Our department is working fully and dedicatedly to ensure that students are going to be back in September in the most reasonable and normal way as possible.” – Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen

The province’s latest proposal suggests the 2020-21 academic school year start on Aug. 31 — six school days ahead of the typical post-long-weekend return. The plan states that combined, an early start and the re-purposing of some non-instructional days throughout the year, will make time for catch-up.

"Our department is working fully and dedicatedly to ensure that students are going to be back in September in the most reasonable and normal way as possible," Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen told the Free Press.

When asked about scenario planning, Goertzen said the province doesn’t want to traumatize children in schools by "overreaching" with new social distancing set-ups in schools.

Dhillon suspects the school year will begin with teachers doing extensive reviews and explaining key concepts required in pre-requisite classes when school resumes. An extra week likely won’t make all that much of a difference, she said.

"It’s important for kids and teachers to get a full summer," Dhillon said. "I’m not sure really that starting a week early is going to gain back that much time."

Schools will be required to maintain physical distancing measures, including limiting capacity to 50 per cent below normal levels, creating a designated entrance and ramping up washroom sanitation.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Schools will be required to maintain physical distancing measures, including limiting capacity to 50 per cent below normal levels, creating a designated entrance and ramping up washroom sanitation.

For parent Mira Oberman, the return of regular classes can’t come soon. Oberman has largely put kindergarten on the back-burner while she works from home full-time and supervises her six-year-old twins.

She said the break has been difficult on her children, who were in a critical developmental year of school and socialization, learning the fundamentals of school through play with classmates.

"It’s just been a ridiculous amount of screen time and taking breaks from work to get them out to the park," Oberman said, adding there hasn’t been enough time to dive into home learning packages or content posted by her childrens’ teacher on online platform Seesaw.

"While I'm so incredibly happy school will be starting a week earlier because the kids are desperate to be educated, my real concern is that I want to make sure that school remains an emotionally safe place, in addition to a physically safe place," she said.

"I really hope that schools are able to find a healthy balance between preventing the spread of COVID-19 and preventing the emotional trauma associated with treating children like vectors."

“It’s important for kids and teachers to get a full summer. I’m not sure really that starting a week early is going to gain back that much time.” – Kamal Dhillon

Oberman added she’s open to finding a way to get her children back into Laura Secord School before the end of June, if possible.

Meantime, NDP Opposition leader Wab Kinew said Thursday the province’s plan to reopen schools won’t be enough.

"Summer learning loss is going to be a bigger issue this year than any other year," Kinew said, adding that many students are struggling with online learning. And, with fewer summer camp spaces available because of physical-distancing requirements, more opportunities for kids to learn are lost, he said.

Summer learning camps like CSI (Community School Investigators) that combine play with learning in Winnipeg need to be scaled up and province-wide, he said.

"As a parent I don't like the idea of summer being shortened but I don’t think this approach will help summer learning loss either, with the premier's plan to cram it all in one week," he said. "That doesn’t jibe with how young minds learn. A more consistent approach is needed."

– With files from Carol Sanders

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

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.

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History

Updated on Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 9:29 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

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