Manitoba families are grappling with the uncertainty of classes resuming anytime soon after the province hinted Thursday students could be out of school indefinitely.
"It’s difficult to comprehend a scenario where we would be returning people (and) lifting our social-distancing strategies anytime in the next few weeks," said Manitoba chief medical health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, when asked about the possibility of schools remaining closed beyond April 10.
April 10 is the scheduled end of an initial three-week provincewide suspension of classes comprised of the March 30-April 3 spring break bookended by an additional week before and after.
Upwards of 200,000 students enrolled in public and independent schools in Manitoba are learning from afar while the province promotes social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19.
One week in, it has already been a huge challenge for Rhonda Funk, a mother of four — ages 3, 6, 10 and 11 — who lives near Richer.
"When we went to go pick up the kids at the school, it was so emotional. The school had a really eerie feeling. It was eerie and sad," said Funk, whose Grade 1, 5 and 6 students attend École Ste. Anne Immersion.
"Most likely, this is going to be a longer-term thing than anticipated."
Funk and her husband own a garbage-collection business and continue to work; their roles have being deemed essential during the pandemic. Funk said Thursday she hasn’t accomplished any work in her home office this week because she’s been busy entertaining her children so they aren’t watching TV all day.
“When we went to go pick up the kids at the school, it was so emotional. The school had a really eerie feeling. It was eerie and sad.” — Rhonda Funk, whose Grade 1, 5 and 6 students attend École Ste. Anne Immersion
Since the family lives off Highway 1, one of the ways they’ve been keeping busy is waving at truckers and counting how many times they get honked at.
In East Kildonan, Diana Kessler-Kochie’s main challenge has been keeping her son, who is in Grade 2, on task due to all the distractions at home — namely, his three younger siblings.
"He likes to be in school and wants to learn and be around his friends. It’s hard to explain to him that we might be going back to school in three weeks or we might not. It’s hard for him to comprehend that; I don’t have answers myself," said Kessler-Kochie, a substitute teacher.
Homework aside, she said playtime has also been difficult without access to public playgrounds. "In a few weeks, it’ll start to be really hard — especially having kids cooped up."
Kessler-Kochie said she understands it’s all but certain the closures will justifiably be extended, but she's worried about the impact it’ll have on children across the province.
"It’s not something we planned for six months ago, or even six weeks ago, for that matter — so it’s probably not ideal, we certainly admit that," said James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.
"Members are doing what they always do: supporting each other, sharing information. How well is it working? Time will tell."
A Grade 8 teacher at George Waters Middle School in St. James, Carina Romagnoli has been spending her days videotaping lessons she's preparing using the whiteboard in her basement.
"Our biggest challenge is figuring out how we can continue to meet the diverse learning needs of all of our students from afar," said Romagnoli, adding she's fortunate her husband is also a teacher, so they can collaborate.
Teachers are doing everything from phone call check-ins to livestream lessons to keep connected with students, Bedford said, adding he spoke to Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen Thursday about the uncertain situation.
Bedford didn't sound very positive about a resumption of the school year.
"We would be optimistic to think we’d be back in classes," he 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.
Updated on Friday, March 27, 2020 at 8:58 AM CDT: Changes headline