More than 400 parents have signed a letter calling the current education situation "unsustainable" and demanding Manitoba spend federal and provincial funds to keep schools and educators safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A number of concerns in the yet-to-be-submitted open letter addressed to Premier Brian Pallister and Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen echo the requests of nearly 500 local educators in a similar message to government last week.
"As parents, we’re really concerned about safety in schools," parent Rhonda Hinther said Monday.
"It’s especially concerning to us when we’re hearing about the degree of stress teachers are working under, how they’re being pulled in so many directions, and how they’re being asked to do so during a global pandemic where safety in schools is so important."
The parents’ letter demands the Pallister government spend the $85 million in federal funding that was set aside for educational support, using it to provide essential resources.
"We need things like this rapid testing. We need to ensure teachers and other school staff have proper and effective (personal protective equipment) if they’re going to be working in schools," said Hinther.
"And we also need other measures put in place to ensure schools are safe: smaller class sizes, and more remote learning for all families that might want it to keep those class sizes small."
Hinther said the idea of sending her son to school is "terrifying" right now.
"There seems to be this attitude that schools somehow are a magical, enchanted place where infections don’t spread, and we know that that’s not true," she said. "Especially now, when we’ve lost control of these (COVID-19 case) numbers in Manitoba… We need to do everything possible to keep schools safer."
Last week, the province said asymptomatic education staff would be exempt from self-isolating if there is a household member experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 who is not yet a confirmed case.
"If we’re going to talk about teachers as front-line workers, then they need to isolate just like health-care workers do. Why would we not require them to isolate?" said Shawna Ferris, who has a son in Grade 1 at Wolseley School.
Ferris said her partner is a health-care worker who has been tested for the coronavirus two times this fall, getting results back within five hours. If the province wants to avoid teachers self-isolating, they should be able to access rapid testing also, she said.
"The system is already in place; they just need to add teachers to the list of people who have their results fast tracked," she said. "I appreciate the work that teachers are doing… I don’t think it’s defensible for the government to not spend the money."
The letter had 442 signatures from concerned parents, as of Monday afternoon. Hinther and Ferris encourage more to sign on before 4 p.m. Sunday (https://forms.gle/JcvRcbECGS8fcYkZ8).