Manitoba teachers angered by province’s post-Christmas remote learning plan, union says

The head of Manitoba’s public teachers’ union is perplexed and “entirely disappointed” by Wednesday’s announcement from the province that some students, but not others, will be learning remotely for two weeks after winter break.

Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced Wednesday that students from Grade 7 to Grade 12 will have to do remote learning from Jan. 4-15. Children and kindergarten to Grade 6 will have the choice to do remote learning, or return to class.

“Understanding why they made the decision they made is tremendously difficult,” said James Bedford, president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, which represents 16,000 public school teachers.

“Schools are not going to be a safe place for Grade 7 to 12, but for kindergarten to Grade 6, it’s safe? It’s safe for everybody, or it’s not safe. You can’t have both at the same time.”

The province justified the move by saying older students tend to have more contacts and therefore have a higher likelihood of transmitting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. They were also described as being more amenable to online learning..

But Bedford said the move also makes life harder for those who teach kindergarten to Grade 6, because for that two-week span, they don’t know how many students will be in class or remote learning at the same time.

“[Teachers] are still stressed, they’re still overworked — but now they’re angry,” said Bedford.

“They’re angry because they’re seeing a government that is just not understanding the realities in our schools. They’re angry because the messaging that’s coming is contradictory. They’re angry because they don’t understand the rationale behind the messaging.”

Bedford says kindergarten to Grade 6 teachers are angry about Wednesday’s announcement, as they will have to plan for an unknown amount of students attending class and learning remotely. (CBC/Nelly Gonzalez)

Many kindergarten to Grade 6 teachers will spend much of their two-week winter break planning for the first two weeks of class in January, he said.

The union suggested everything be moved remote for the month of January, said Bedford, arguing it would ensure continuity of education, address workload issues for teachers, and eliminate potential spread of COVID-19 at schools after the winter break.

‘COVID’s not going anywhere

Meanwhile, Charles Cochrane, executive director of  the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, says the two weeks of remote learning was the obvious right move.

“COVID’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” said Cochrane, whose organization provides education, administration, technology, language and culture services to First Nations schools in the province.

Charles Cochrane, executive director of the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre, says the main thing is for students to have a forum for education. (Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre)

“I still believe that two weeks is possibly not even enough. It remains to be seen, but it’s such a short time frame.”

About half of First Nations in the province have been doing remote learning since the beginning of the school year, including Wapaskwa Virtual Collegiate, which has done remote learning successfully for a decade, said Cochrane.

The main thing is that students have a forum for education, he added.

Wednesday’s announcement came one day after the Winnipeg School Division, the largest division in the province, rehearsed how remote learning would work.

Desneige Meyer, a mother of two Grade 7 students who attend different schools, was not surprised to hear about the two weeks of remote learning in January.

“Even though we’re not supposed to be gathering as families, we’re not supposed to be travelling, I suspect that transmission over Christmas is going to rise just like we saw after Thanksgiving,” said Meyer.

One of Meyer’s children has cystic fibrosis and cystic fibrosis diabetes, making him immunocompromised. He has been attending school in person so far, but Meyer is open to the two-week period away from class, as it acts as a period that could further protect her son.

“There are some inconveniences with it. But ultimately, if the right choice is to bring [students] home, when we know transmission is going to be high, then absolutely I think the right choice is to do that,” she said. 

Laura Layden, mother to a Grade 2 student and Grade 6 student, also thought the province made the right call.

“[My children] are doing really, really great, and I’m glad that they’re going to get the opportunity to continue being in class, where they obviously belong,” said Layden.

Layden will also be sending her kids back to class after the winter break because she feels their school and school division have done a good job of keeping students safe.

If that situation changes, however, then she’ll reconsider.

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