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Manitoba schools to stay closed longer due to COVID-19 concerns

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Kelvin Goertzen and other provincial health ministers wait to speak as a group before a meeting with the federal finance and health ministers in Ottawa, Monday, December 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Kelvin Goertzen and other provincial health ministers wait to speak as a group before a meeting with the federal finance and health ministers in Ottawa, Monday, December 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government is closing elementary, junior high and high schools indefinitely due to COVID-19.

The province originally planned a three-week shutdown that was to end April 13, but Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said schools will stay closed for the remainder of the academic year unless health officials say they can be reopened.

Assignments and learning are to continue as teachers work remotely, Goertzen said Tuesday. Students won't see their marks drop from where they were on the last day of class in March.

"Marks for all students will be baselined. They'll essentially be held at where they were on the last day of regular classes or exams," he said.

"But students will be expected to continue learning during this in-school class suspension. They will have the opportunity to increase their mark through their additional learning."

Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen listens in as Premier Brian Pallister speaks during a COVID-19 live-streamed press conference at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg Tuesday, March 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen listens in as Premier Brian Pallister speaks during a COVID-19 live-streamed press conference at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg Tuesday, March 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Grade 12 final exams are to be cancelled, but all students who were to graduate when classes were called off will do so, Goertzen added.

Manitoba already has an online program for high school students called Informnet, which offers all core courses and a limited number of optional credits. Remote learning for younger students will be a bit more difficult, Goertzen said.

Grant Doak, deputy education minister, said teachers are to engage with students and their parents to ensure kids continue to follow the curriculum.

"The expectation is, as much as possible, that learning will continue," Doak said.

There may be job losses because of the school closures, the government said, but some workers such as educational assistants will be redirected to help Grade 12 students finish their year.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the Progressive Conservative government should guarantee all jobs.

"Every person who works in a school or child-care centre plays a role in our students' education, from teachers ... to bus drivers. Now is not the time for job cuts or layoffs," Kinew said in a written statement.

The announcement came as health officials revealed another seven probable or confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing Manitoba's total to 103.

Among the affected is a staff member at a hospital in Selkirk, north of Winnipeg, who had worked in the emergency department and medicine ward between March 19 and 23.

That person got COVID-19 after travelling within Canada, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said. Officials were investigating and tracking patients and other staff in Selkirk who may have come into close contact with the worker.

The Manitoba Nurses Union has called for more protective equipment to help prevent health workers from catching the novel coronavirus on the job. Roussin said that while there have been many cases around the world of that happening, there were no clear indications of it occurring in Manitoba to date.

"I can't confirm that — that there was a confirmed case that spread to a health care worker. But we have a lot of investigations ongoing," Roussin said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2020.

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