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Manitoba students should anticipate in-person instruction in September, the education minister said, but the decision about how classes will roll out in the fall isn't expected until Aug. 1.
Schools are to prepare for three scenarios: in-class learning for all grades, with near-normal conditions; in-class learning with physical distancing in kindergarten to Grade 8 and potential blended learning for high schoolers; and remote learning with a limited use of school facilities.
In the first case, students would be able to resume school in full classes while maintaining good hygiene.
The second scenario would involve in-person instruction in smaller classes or regular groups in rooms with adequate space for desks to be two metres apart, as well as cohorting (creating groups — whether they be a single class or grade, multiple classes or grades, or otherwise — in which students are allowed to intermingle).
K-8 students would be able to attend school five days a week, but high schoolers may experience blended learning, if schools cannot accommodate physical distancing with full attendance. If space in a high school is limited, Grade 9-12 students would be expected to attend a minimum of two days of classroom instruction weekly.
"All signs indicate right now that based on how things are proceeding in Manitoba that we should have all students back in class in September (for the second scenario)," Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Thursday, flanked by Dr. Brent Roussin, at a news conference at the legislature.
If the third option is selected, classes would mostly be taught from afar, but teachers would be able to invite students back for limited in-person instruction. The options available to students would be similar to what schools offered throughout June.
Ultimately, public health officials will pick a scenario halfway through the summer, before teachers and students return, on Sept. 2 and 8, respectively. They will take into account a combination of figures and trends. Roussin said experts will look at the COVID-19 case count, the rate of positive tests, community-based transmission, the number of respiratory-related visits to emergency rooms and the availability of hospital beds.
No matter the scenario, students who have compromised immune systems or who live in a household with someone who is at risk will be able to learn remotely.
Goertzen said families can be confident Manitoba Education will follow "good public health advice." Such advice will dictate a return with fewer, if any, large assemblies, socially distant extracurricular activities and staggered recesses. Phys-ed, music class and high school elective lists are expected to be different next year.
"The priorities have to first be on those core subjects, if there is a space challenge," the minister said, naming math, science and literacy.
Kamlesh Sharma’s family met the announcement with optimism. "My kids would love to (go) back to school because they’ve had a long winter," said Sharma, whose daughter will enter Grade 4 and son will enter Grade 7 in Seven Oaks School Division next year.
One of the biggest challenges for families, Goertzen said, will be getting children to school — a task the province will rely on parents to help with. Students from the same household will be able to share a school bus seat; otherwise, each seat will be assigned to a single student.
"It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re up for the challenge," said Kristy Frohwerk, a kindergarten teacher at Lord Nelson School. "No matter what, we plan to meet all students' needs; our goal is really just for them to feel happy, safe and welcome coming back."
Every September, Frohwerk teaches her students about germs, but she said this year’s lessons will be even more robust. In a way, she said she has the benefit of teaching students who are new to school for the first time — even though they will undoubtedly struggle with social distancing while lining up and walking down hallways.
Manitoba Teachers’ Society president James Bedford said he’s pleased there is a framework for a return to school, but teachers have questions about everything from cohort size to how music class can be taught. It’s unclear how substitute teachers will operate if they are working at a number of schools during the week, Bedford said.
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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