August 13, 2020

Winnipeg
17° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Close this
Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Subscribe

Decision not to reopen schools called short-sighted

The Free Press has made this story available free of charge so everyone can access trusted information on the coronavirus.

Support this work by subscribing today

The province's decision not to reopen schools in any capacity is being questioned by a child psychologist who says students are falling way behind and may lose a year's worth of learning.

"We’re now going to be talking six months of children out of school," said Jen Theule, an associate professor in school and clinical psychology at the University of Manitoba. "We’re not talking learning loss, we’ll be re-teaching an entire grade."

In-person interactions with teachers and peers are critical in a child’s development, especially for children younger than 10, Theule said.

A mother and expert in children’s mental health and education, she questions why creative ideas for resuming classes are missing from the province's plan.

Jen Theule, associate professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba, says in-person interactions with teachers and peers are critical in a child’s development, especially for children younger than 10 . (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Jen Theule, associate professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba, says in-person interactions with teachers and peers are critical in a child’s development, especially for children younger than 10 . (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Premier Brian Pallister has made clear his government has no plan to allow students to return to class before the end of the academic year.

"The intensity of the presence of a large number of kids in a school makes social distancing all but impossible," Pallister said Wednesday, before noting the end of the year is fast approaching.

He made the comments moments after introducing Manitoba's reopening plan, which includes allowing non-essential businesses to reopen next week.

As far as Theule is concerned, there are safe options, and governments across the globe have tested some of them.

In mid-April, Denmark reopened schools with drastic changes to the pre-pandemic routine: class sizes were reduced, students are only allowed to play in small groups and they are required to wash their hands hourly. Danish school employees must prioritize outdoor learning, prevent parents from entering schools and ramp up sanitation.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump has urged states to reopen schools. In rural Idaho, administrators are mulling asking siblings to sit together on school buses, spaced out from other students.

“We have to acknowledge teachers’ expertise. The idea that parents could do this is almost amusing. If all parents could do this, we wouldn't have a public school system.” – Jen Theule, associate professor in school and clinical psychology at the University of Manitoba

Closer to home, Quebec plans to reopen elementary schools in two weeks in areas where there have been few COVID-19 cases. Classes will be capped at 15 students and those who live with people with health conditions will be barred from attending. One Vancouver school has already welcomed back students with "exceptionally high learning needs" to receive face-to-face instruction.

Discussion about any such measures in Manitoba have been secretive, if they have taken place at all.

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen did not agree to an interview this week. Instead, his office provided a general statement that noted the department is working with stakeholders on the file.

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society did not provide comment on the subject either, redirecting a query to a quote from president James Bedford in a prepared release: "The safety of students and of all education staff is of the utmost priority, and teachers are committed to ensuring that our students continue to learn during these uncertain times."

For parents, common concerns include their children's safety and ability to be asymptomatic carriers, as well as the unknown.

"At least if they had more information at this point then they could prepare," said Brenda Brazeau of the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils. A member of a provincial task force on the COVID-19 education response, Brazeau has yet to hear any discussion about what reopening schools could look like.

Meanwhile, Theule said it's important Manitobans start to consider their options.

"We have to acknowledge teachers’ expertise," she said. "The idea that parents could do this is almost amusing. If all parents could do this, we wouldn't have a public school system."

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.

Read full biography

The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.

To submit a letter:
• fill out the form on this page, or
• email letters@freepress.mb.ca, or
• mail Letters to the Editor, 1355 Mountain Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R2X 3B6.

Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

ABOVE THE FOLD

Carol Sanders and Kevin Rollason:

Business sector struggles with speed of Manitoba plan

Mayor Brian Bowman urged Winnipeggers to be patient.
Residents of a migrant workers dormitory in Singapore wait to enter an on-site grocery store. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Ore Huiying for The Washington Post.
A empty hallway is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. New Brunswick's education minister says that barring drastic improvement, schools in the province will remain closed for the rest of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS(from left) Sidney Blackwood and Antonio Whitehall take a couple horses for their daily workout Thursday morning at Assiniboia Downs.Darren Dunn, CEO of Assiniboia Downs Gaming and Event Centre, hopes to get plans to the start racing in mid-May without fans off the ground.See Jason Bell story200430 - Thursday, April 30, 2020.</p>
<p>Mrs. Mike’s Hamburger Stand has been operating for 45 years.</p>

Jen Zoratti and Frances Koncan:

Nothing beats a Chilly Dog

Nahanni Fontaine says Chilly Dog, her German shepherd/greyhound mix, gives her great motivation to keep active and get out the house.</p>
What is driving Premier Brian Pallister to push forward so aggressively?