Faced with fluctuating attendance and a steep COVID-19 curve in the city, the River East Transcona School Division is requesting families send students to school or commit to remote instruction for the long haul.

Superintendent Kelly Barkman penned a letter to parents in the district Thursday, asking them to confirm with their child’s school whether they want to opt-in or continue with temporary remote instruction — and if so, vow to do so until "at least" spring break.

There are currently approximately 2,900 students enrolled in distance learning in RETSD — about 17 per cent of the student population in the province’s second-largest division.

Three-hundred of those students have a medical exemption for ongoing remote instruction in 2020-21, while the remaining pupils were only given the opportunity to learn from home earlier this month, when schools were slapped with new public health restrictions.

"It’s important to consider we are likely going to be operating in the orange (restricted) level of the pandemic response system for the foreseeable future," Barkman wrote in a notice dated Nov. 19, which calls on parents to assess their ability to support remote schooling.

For the Asselin family, the choice was an easy one.

"That’s a long time to not be in school," said mother Leanna Asselin. "A lot of people are unsure what to do… but really, it’s what’s best for you and what you think is best for your child."

What’s best for her third grader, she said, is the ability to get out of the house, learn at school with extra math support and without distractions, and spend time with friends.

Noah Asselin went back to Harold Hatcher Elementary School this week, after a two-week trial of remote learning via video calls with his classroom teacher. Half of his class is in distance learning, so the classroom looks "really big now," the eight-year-old said, adding he would rather be in school than not.

River East Transcona students who choose remote learning will continue to meet virtually with their classroom teacher and other educators in their home school who rotate on Microsoft Teams.

Barkman said teachers are working extremely hard to make things work and, next week, they will have two back-to-back professional development days to re-evaluate the set-up.

"It’s a hard job, it’s taxing, there’s lots of anxiety, but we would really see it as something that’s favourable — to keep the kids in schools. I do get concerned; if kids are not at school, where are they?" he said.

Schools across Winnipeg have taken different approaches to remote programs. Some have hired new teachers to oversee programs. Others have asked classroom teachers or a team of school administrators to juggle both.

In Winnipeg, St. James-Assiniboia, Pembina Trails, Seine River and the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine districts, families are being asked to commit to remote learning until the restricted phase in schools is lifted — whenever that might be.

Louis Riel students will also be locked in for a fixed period, once the division launches its temporary learn-from-home option.

Seven Oaks is taking things month-by-month, but administrators expect remote learning will be offered until at least the winter break.

For one Winnipeg teacher, who has been planning for both remote and in-class lessons for weeks, the break can’t come soon enough.

"When you’re spreading yourself so thin, it’s impossible to give your best to either one because your mind is constantly in a different place and worrying about what’s coming next," said the teacher, who spoke to the Free Press on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal at work.

If thousands of students are going to be in remote learning for the foreseeable future, the teacher said the hope is divisions find ways to alleviate the pressures on educators asked to do both.


Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

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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