Rather than join her children on a hike Sunday, Brandy Cook was among the many teacher/mothers in Manitoba who spent what was supposed to be an afternoon of celebration preparing for an abrupt shift to remote learning.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

Rather than join her children on a hike Sunday, Brandy Cook was among the many teacher/mothers in Manitoba who spent what was supposed to be an afternoon of celebration preparing for an abrupt shift to remote learning.

It was not the extra work, which has been constant for educators throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nor cancelled plans that frustrated her. What angered Cook was the timing of the province’s announcement: 1:30 p.m. on Mother’s Day.

"The reality is that child care in a large amount of families falls onto mothers. The pandemic has affected women at higher rates than men. They’re the ones expected to make sacrifices," said Cook, who teaches Grade 9 social studies, science and English in Winnipeg.

"The idea that they waited until Mother’s Day seemed malicious and sexist, and it just really made me angry because it was unnecessary."

When the province’s top doctor unveiled a series of new restrictions late Friday, Dr. Brent Roussin indicated officials were monitoring the school situation and would announce something "in the near future."

Education Minister Cliff Cullen, alongside Roussin, announced Sunday in-person classes would be cancelled for K-12 students in both Winnipeg and Brandon from May 12 to 30 to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

City schools enter resigned acceptance of COVID closure

Click to Expand
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS						</p>																	<p>Maples Collegiate students Jamie Anderson, Isaac Nimmagadda, Rebecca Cabral and Harshveer Multani are outside the school in Winnipeg Monday. Cabral celebrated her 17th birthday with her friends before schools closed due to lockdown.						</p>
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Maples Collegiate students Jamie Anderson, Isaac Nimmagadda, Rebecca Cabral and Harshveer Multani are outside the school in Winnipeg Monday. Cabral celebrated her 17th birthday with her friends before schools closed due to lockdown.

Posted: 8:09 PM May. 10, 2021

Garden City Collegiate’s mental health club (called “Mind over Matter”) recently held a week of activities for students feeling anxious, including meditation, self-affirmation and goal-setting techniques.

The initiative was much-needed at the time, principal Tony Kreml said Monday — but may have become particularly crucial, considering Sunday’s announcement all schools in Winnipeg and Brandon would close and transfer to remote learning, sending K-12 students home until at least May 30.

Read Full Story

Only students in Grade 6 or younger with critical service worker parents, students with disabilities, and pupils who are deemed at-risk of disengaging from academics, will be able to attend school buildings during the remote period.

"There will not be any in-school learning — it’s still remote learning, it’s just that you’re doing it in school," said Radean Carter, spokeswoman for the Winnipeg School Division.

Educational assistants and other staff will supervise students who have to come to school in the province’s largest division, Carter said Monday.

Administrators have already asked families to identify whether caregivers are essential workers, while many teachers proactively introduced students to Microsoft Teams, a popular digital classroom platform, at the start of the year.

Cook has asked her students to submit assignments virtually since autumn, so they could get comfortable with the software.

Despite personal challenges with device access and internet bandwidth between her five children, she said she supports the "circuit breaker" pandemic closures, citing rising caseloads and a shortage of substitute teachers.

Ahead of the formal pivot, Alice McKay kept her four children, who are in grades 3, 5, 7 and 8, respectively, home Monday.

"I think a lot of people hoped (closures) would come a lot sooner… Being an educator and having children currently in the public school system, it’s been a very stressful school year," said McKay, who just finished a teaching practicum through the University of Winnipeg.

At the same time, the Winnipeg mother said she worries about students who rely on school as a safe space.

The reality is not everyone has been following public health rules, she added; when McKay was at her placement, she heard about students hanging out at each other’s houses on the weekends, and watched unmasked playdates on the playground.

Roussin said Monday the curve cannot be flattened if students mingle outside school when classes are cancelled; he has repeatedly suggested transmission within schools is limited, but growing transmission in the greater community is showing up in schools.

"Since last Friday, we’ve had more than 1,500 cases reported, and that’s why we had to take stronger public health action, that’s why we had to move Winnipeg and Brandon schools to remote learning, that’s why we’re asking Manitobans to stay home," he said.

Approximately 20 per cent of overall COVID-19 cases are among school-aged children, according to the province.

An analysis of provincial data suggests 28 per cent of total cases are among the zero to 19 age group at present.

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