Many Manitoba schools will remain in remote learning until end of school year

Many students in the province will have to close out the school year by learning at home.

The province announced all Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools in Winnipeg, Brandon, Garden Valley, and Red River Valley school divisions will remain in remote learning until the end of the school year.

Education Minister Cliff Cullen said students in these areas will be allowed to meet with teachers in small groups starting June 14, unless Public Health says otherwise.

These groups will be able to receive in-person support, clinical support, assessments, and transition planning.

Other schools in the province that have switched to remote learning individually can reopen after being assessed by Public Health.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s deputy chief provincial public health officer, said 21 per cent of COVID-19 cases are in school-aged kids.

"It's important to note these individuals may not have caught the virus at school though, they may have contracted the virus from a household contact or through community transmission," he said.

Atwal added there have been 335 cases linked to schools in the last 14 days prior to May 30, and 170 schools have one or more cases.

"Our case numbers aren't where they need to be. Our acute-care system numbers are still high and we still need to worry about that and we're going to have to continue worrying about it for the next few weeks as well. So we looked at all that information, I felt this was the best way to continue forward," he said.

With students finishing another year not in the classroom, Cullen was asked how the province plans to ensure students are caught up next year.

"Clearly, we're allowing a couple of weeks here at the end of the school year for teachers to interact with their students and parents, and make sure that we understand where the students are at so the assessment protocols are certainly in place," Cullen said.

"We recognized there's going to be some catch up required next fall. So we have made allowances for school divisions to provide that extra learning capacity."

The minister added that the duration of time the small groups will need to be in the school will be left up to each individual teacher, noting that the teachers know their students best.

Asked why this announcement wasn't made last week when the province extended the remote learning process by a week, Cullen said it is hard to know what the future holds.

"We were optimistic that the numbers would go down, the pressure might be less on our health-care system," he said.

When it comes to next year, Atwal was asked if Manitobans can expect to see students back in the classroom.

"Vaccine uptake is paramount in our ability to get back to some of those things that we love do," Atwal said. "The vaccination program, vaccines, are going to be able to provide that glimmer of hope that we're going to get back to some normalcy."

He added that the next school year is still a long ways away, but he thinks the province will be in a better spot in the fall than it is right now.