Manitoba government says schools will resume classroom learning in September

WINNIPEG — Students in Manitoba are to be back in the classroom in September, although many in high school will continue to do some of their learning remotely.

The province released its plan Thursday on how it will reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Kids from kindergarten to Grade 8 are to be in classes full time. High schools, where physical distancing requirements may be harder to enforce, will have to offer at least two days of classroom instruction per six-day school cycle.

"As a department of education, our desire is that all students are back five days a week ... but it has to work within the public health guidelines," Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.

The Manitoba School Boards Association said most high schools will be hard-pressed to accommodate full-time classroom learning.

"Five days a week is likely not feasible under the current circumstances for the vast majority of high schools," association president Alan Campbell said.

Unlike Ontario's plan, also released Thursday, Manitoba is not making face masks for students or staff mandatory.

"It's not part of our plan right now ... but we're continuing to review all these things and we'll continue to update as needed," said Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer.

Schools will be asked to ensure that students are separated by two metres as much as possible. Where that can't be done, students are to be grouped into cohorts of up to 75 and remain apart from other groups.

Lunch and recess breaks are to be staggered to minimize congestion and in many cases teachers will change classrooms instead of students.

Buses will run at reduced capacity and parents will be asked to take their children to school if they can. In some schools, resource rooms and other areas may have to be converted to classrooms to ensure students can maintain physical distancing.

There will also be increased screening of visitors and more cleaning of surfaces.

To pay for the new requirements, the government wants school boards to use $48 million they saved when schools were closed in March. The Manitoba Teachers' Society said that may not be enough.

"We are certainly hoping that when it's necessary, and where it's necessary, that the province is willing to step in with financial assistance to ensure everybody's safety in schools," society president James Bedford said.

Bedford also said some school divisions will need help attracting more substitute teachers to fill in for educators who feel sick and have to stay home.

The Opposition New Democrats said the government is not offering schools enough money to adapt.

"It's only maybe $220, $240 dollars per student," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

"That may not be enough even to cover the cleaning and protective equipment costs for a given school year."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2020

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