With classes set to resume in Manitoba in just a few days, Manitoba's Education Minister has released guides for parents, students, and staff that will help answer questions about the return to the classroom.
Teachers and other school staff returned to school on Wednesday, with students set to return to school on September 8th.
"I know that there is a lot of anticipation about the September 8th start date, but there is also a lot of anxiousness," said Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen.
"We certainly see that there is that anxiousness, and to the best of our ability in terms of providing answers in advance to those questions, we hope that that will alleviate some of the anxiousness."
In anticipation of the start of classes, the province has released online guides and resources for parents, a guide on mask use, an easy reference to the Pandemic Response Notification System, answers to COVID-19 screening questions, and guides for COVID-19 in schools and early learning and child centres.
"I think that these resources are very helpful, and hopefully parents now have a few days to review them, and to the extent they didn't have some of their questions answered before, hopefully this allows them to get some of those questions answered," he said.
Goertzen said the province has been working through protocols with Public Health and compiling the information released on Wednesday, which is why it wasn't released sooner.
"Providing quick information is not always providing good information," he said.
Goertzen said Public Health intends to release daily information regarding any positive cases of COVID-19 in schools, and whether there has been an infectious period within a school.
"We have to remember that anytime a student possibly is confirmed for having COVID-19 – that doesn't mean that they got it in the school, or ever were in the school," Goertzen said.
The materials are available in printed form, or on the Manitoba website.
CONCERNS ABOUT REMOTE LEARNING OPTIONS FOR PARENTS
In several school division plans, students are only eligible for remote learning if they have a medical condition that makes them more susceptible to COVID-19 related risk factors.
Some school divisions, including Pembina Trails School Division, have extended its remote learning program to include students who are living in a home with someone who is immunocompromised.
When asked why remote learning is not available to all students, Goertzen said there are challenges.
"The best place for a child to learn is in the classroom," he said. "We saw the impact of not having children in the classroom in March – there is a lot of impacts that are well beyond education."
He said teachers have also said it is difficult for teachers to support both in-class learning and remote learning.
Goertzen said last year, there were about 3,800 students who were home-schooled. As of the last week of August, he said about 1,600 students were registered for home school. He said many people may still register before school starts.
He said students who begin the year homeschooling can move back into the public school system during the year.
MANITOBA NDP, LIBERALS SAY MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE
Manitoba's NDP Leader Wab Kinew said there was a benefit to the province releasing the guides and resources, but questioned why it took so long.
"The government, just a few days before schools open, is now finally sharing their plans," he said, adding Thursday's announcement was a missed opportunity to address parent's concerns as to how the classrooms will be safer.
"I think parents would feel a lot better about sending their kids back to the classroom, if they knew that class sizes were going to be small, that there were going to be investments in mental health, and that these things were going to happen right away as opposed to halfway through the coming school year."
He said the province needs to put more money towards safety investments in classrooms.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont criticized the government for releasing this information on the day that teachers and school staff returned to school.
He said there needs to be remote learning available to students, and a funding commitment is needed.
"They have had all summer to work on this," he said. "We have to put money into making schools safe, and they haven't done that yet."