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Manitoba students will get their summer vacation in full before returning to school after Labour Day. Teachers will be called back to classrooms a few days beforehand for public health and recovery learning planning for 2020-21.
In a series of tweets Monday, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced the upcoming academic year will start Sept. 8; he said the province is acting on feedback from recent back-to-school surveys of parents, teachers and students.
"As expected, the experience with at home learning has been difficult for many. While there will be a need for supplemental learning opportunities for many students in the next school year, the desire was that it be accommodated within the school year," states a tweet posted to Goertzen's government-run account, which boasts more than 700 followers.
The province previously floated an earlier start (Aug. 31) to address learning loss — an announcement met with mixed reactions from staff and students who have grown accustomed to a post-Labour Day start since 2003.
James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, told the Free Press the union is happy for families, but disappointed summer will be cut short for teachers.
"The minister has said everybody needs a complete summer; we thought teachers would be part of everybody," Bedford said Monday.
Goertzen said on Twitter schools will reopen for staff Sept. 2 to prepare spaces, learn health protocols and collaborate on recovery learning plans.
That means teachers will have used up three of their allotted 10 non-instructional days for 2020-21 before students arrive for "a very different school year," Bedford said, adding recovery learning planning is already underway. Non-instructional days are used for everything from preparing report cards to participating in professional development.
Goertzen’s office did not respond to requests — made before and after the Monday tweets — for comment on September plans. On Twitter, however, the minister hinted a school reopening plan would be announced soon.
"It seems like a wise approach is to start schools up in some way, but not in a full–blown way and then see what the impact (is)." – Dr. Terry Klassen, CEO and scientific director of the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba
Teaching principal Byron Dueck said Monday his independent K-12 school near Arborg is planning for a "normal" return — since he doesn't know what other direction to take, given few details released by the province.
"We hope that we can have full-fledged classroom learning, at the same time, we’re waiting to hear," said Dueck, who works at the Interlake Mennonite Fellowship School.
Bedford echoed those sentiments, calling it "concerning" Manitoba is behind other jurisdictions in unveiling guidelines, as educators need to plan.
Last week, Ontario announced three possible scenarios for fall: ongoing remote learning; a mixed approach with classroom caps of 15 students; and regular school days with new public health protocols.
Saskatchewan is planning for a resumption of in-person classes. The province’s guidelines detail new measures for everything from sanitation to transportation; parents are asked to transport their children to school, while students who rely on bussing will be assigned seats beside their siblings.
In New Brunswick, K-5 and 6-8 students will attend school daily (in reduced class sizes and regular sizes, respectively). High schoolers will attend class on a rotational basis; otherwise, they will participate in online learning, guided projects and experiential learning.
The balancing act of trying to resume classes safely is "a wicked problem," said Dr. Terry Klassen, chief executive officer and scientific director of the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba. Klassen said he suspects researchers — himself included — will have more answers about what makes children at risk of developing COVID-19 and their relationship to transmission in the coming months, but current data and analysis is limited.
"It seems like a wise approach is to start schools up in some way, but not in a full-blown way and then see what the impact (is)," he said.
Seven children aged nine or under have tested positive for COVID-19 in Manitoba, while 11 people in the 10-19 age category have been confirmed with the novel coronavirus.
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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Updated on Monday, June 22, 2020 at 9:18 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of Byron.