To prepare for two weeks of remote learning, Fort La Bosse School Division is making use of a COVID Savings fund. “We are trying to support schools with some additional staff for preparations and planning, especially for the two weeks following Christmas break,” says Barry Pitz, FLBSD Superintendent.
All Grades 7 to 12 students are going to stay home when school starts up on Jan. 4, 2021 for what amounts to an incubation period for the COVID-19 virus. It’s part of the province’s defence plan to prevent community transmission after the holiday season.
During those two weeks, K-Gr. 6 students also have the option to receive remote learning. Parents were advised through a school note on Dec. 9. that their K- Gr. 6 students could also learn at home. They were asked to let the school know of their intentions by Dec. 14.
Approximately half a dozen part-time staff have been hired on an as-needed basis, primarily to help with K-6 teaching. Remote learning is not new for older students, as many have been on synchronous learning, a mix of remote and in-class attendance.
While Pitz expects the great majority of K - Gr.6 students will attend class on Jan. 4, preparation still needs to be made for those who will be learning remotely.
“Right now, we don’t have any [positive COVID-19] cases. It might be less than 10 per cent who choose remote learning, in the end.”
He says it has been a tough thing for teachers to navigate the new and ever-changing requirements to educate kids. “We’re just alleviating some of the pressures on the schools, because they’ve had a lot of work - it’s been a lot of work since the beginning of September.”
Teachers have received training to help with remote learning. It’s easier to facilitate at the high school level since “older students are more independent learners,” says Pitz.
To help with remote learning, FLB has purchased 30 Chromebook laptops to the tune of $11,280 plus applicable taxes from a Winnipeg company.
These funds however come from the COVID Savings fund, which is money the division did not spend due to reduced maintenance and bussing expenses last spring when the pandemic caused schools to close.
The laptop devices will be distributed to schools throughout the division and used as needed.
There are other COVID funding provisions for schools, including compensation to teachers and substitute teachers who were scheduled to teach and for other staff if they are forced to stay home to isolate due to health orders.
While they may have no symptoms, if staff have been in contact with someone who has tested positive and have to isolate, it doesn’t come out of their sick time.
Also, additional staff such as substitute teachers called in to cover in COVID related situations are paid through COVID funding.
If it’s COVID caused it does not come out of the FLB budget, but from COVID funding. So far, with no positive cases showing up within the division’s buildings (since the Reston outbreak has been contained and is over) FLB has not been a heavy draw on Manitoba’s education COVID funds.
ABOUT COVID funding
When the two-week Gr. 7 – 12 remote learning was mandated, Minister of Education Kelvin Goertzen confirmed that the full allocation of the Manitoba government’s $100-million investment, along with $85.4 million in federal funding, was in place “to keep our schools healthy and safe.”
The $100-million Safe Schools Fund, established in August 2020, included $48 million in school division savings from the 2019-20 school year and additional $52 million in provincial funding. In late August, the federal government also announced COVID-related funding for education. This total pool of $185.4 million will be used to augment staffing, health and safety, learning and technology.