More Manitoba schools move into remote learning as divisions grapple with holding in-person classes

More schools are transitioning to remote learning as Manitoba COVID-19 case counts and close contacts swell.

As of Friday, 21 schools, including 11 public schools, had been fully moved into remote learning, the province said.

The growing number of staff and students infected or isolating is causing a snowball effect that’s forcing divisions to make tough choices in consultation with Manitoba Education and public health.

A total of 416 cases in schools over the past two weeks has resulted in 3,554 close contacts which include household contacts and contacts in and out school.

It’s also driving up absences among both staff and students.

“All of that is what leads us to make a decision about a given school but it’s all of that, that’s also having me worry about the sustainability of it all,” said Christian Michalik, superintendent of the Louis Riel School Division.

The Louis Riel School Division has three schools, Collège Jeanne-Sauvé, Lavallee School and École Marie-Anne-Gaboury, in remote learning. Too many teachers and school staff can’t come to work.

“Just today, Friday, we have a total number of 428 staff absences in LRSD with 111 of those absences unfilled,” Michalik said.

Michalik said cases and exposures aren’t only affecting staff and students but also their families in other schools and workplaces.

Starting Monday, Pembina Trails School Division superintendent Ted Fransen said three schools, École St. Avila, South Pointe School and Dalhousie School, will be in remote learning.

They have been hit so hard by COVID-19 cases and absences the division had to act.

“We recognize that this can be very, very challenging for families and that is partly why we do not take this decision lightly,” said Fransen.

What’s also challenging is finding enough people to fill vacancies with teachers and school staff either dealing with COVID-19 themselves or isolating due to a potential exposure.

Fransen said those factors coupled with cases and the degree of transmission in the community and in a school are considered before moving them to remote learning.

Public health officials say shutting down schools has to be balanced with the impact on student development and education.

“For a lot of people, school is one of the safest and best places to be,” said Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s deputy chief public health officer.