Most Manitoba students will be back to in-person learning by September, province hopes

The province is hoping most Manitoba students will be back to in-person learning by September, the province’s education minister said on Thursday.

Minister Cliff Cullen says he’s optimistic that after six weeks of remote learning, students will be back in their desks at that time.

“Clearly the vaccination rates are heading in the right direction. We’re optimistic we will get more students vaccinated over the course of the summer. Obviously we’re waiting for approvals for some of the younger students as well,” he said at a news conference.

However, schools are preparing for various scenarios, depending on Manitoba’s public health situation at the time.

Final details for reopening schools will be made public in August.

“We are planning for contingencies and worst-case situations. We’re optimistic for the best, but also have to plan for other situations and other scenarios,” Cullen said.

“We don’t really know what September will look like.”

Kids who are advised by their doctor not to return to school will be able to access the Kindergarten to Grade 8 remote learning support centre, Cullen said.

The province is earmarking $5 million for the support centre, which the province believes will support 1,000 students.

Province demanding school data

Meanwhile, the government asked all school divisions and school boards to compile data by the end of the day Thursday as the province moves to replace elected boards with a centralized authority.

Cullen says that data will help the province make informed decisions when Bill 64, the Education Modernization Act, is passed in legislature, though he didn’t say what kind of data is being requested.

Opposition to Bill 64 is showing up in the form of lawn signs, like this one put out by the Manitoba NDP. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“We would be remiss if we weren’t preparing for the transition phase to get ready for the new governance model and what education will look like past Bill 64,” he said.

Opposition leader Wab Kinew calls the move “undemocratic” because the bill hasn’t yet been through its second reading in the legislature.

“They’re not even waiting for that bill to pass. They’re already moving ahead with that consolidation and cut plan right now, which to me is going to be damaging to schools,” the NDP leader said.

Again, Cullen said the critics should “do their homework” because their issues with the planned overhaul are rooted in misinformation. He added that the data request is within the province’s rights.

The fact that 99 per cent of support staff in the Brandon School Division voted in favour of strike action on Thursday after being without a contract since 2018 should be a sign that more cuts won’t be welcome, Kinew says.

“Staff take these votes seriously, and the 99 per cent support for a strike mandate tells us school support staff feel disrespected, undervalued and deserve support,” said CUPE 737 president Jamie Rose in a news release.

Rose referenced education property tax refunds taking much needed money out of the school system, and away from the education assistants, bus drivers and custodians the union represents.

“It is very, very clear that they’re not listening to the widespread opposition to Bill 64 and the cuts that go with it,” Kinew says.

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