Shut down all public schools in Winnipeg, Manitoba teachers’ union says

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society is calling on the provincial government to declare code red and move all public schools in Winnipeg to remote learning. 

Cases of more contagious variants are rising and impacting younger Manitobans, union president James Bedford said in a news release on Thursday, urging the government to “use every means at our disposal to arrest the virus’ spread and keep our children safe.”

The move to the critical or code red level of the province’s pandemic response system would serve as a circuit breaker, permitting time for vaccines and other public health measures to take effect against the third wave, Bedford said.

Although the province of Manitoba is in code red, schools are operating under code orange protocols.

Bedford blamed Premier Brian Pallister’s government for “endangering the lives” of students and school staff by continuing to refuse priority access to teachers for COVID-19 vaccines.

Now it’s too late, Beford said.

Even if all teachers were vaccinated today, it would be mid- to late May before the shots became effective, he said in the release. 

The union suggests the mass move to remote learning begin May 4, giving teachers a few days to shift from the classroom to online platforms, and for families to make child care and other arrangements.

Bedford acknowledged the move will be disruptive for teachers, students and families but said it is essential in the interest of public health and safety.

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society will monitor test positivity rates in communities outside of Winnipeg and expand the call for code red as needed, Bedford said in the release.

2 more schools go remote

In the meantime, two more Winnipeg schools are going into remote learning for at least two weeks.

The Pembina Trails School Division says St. Avila and South Pointe schools will begin online learning on Monday. Classroom instruction will be open to children with additional needs and children of critical services workers.

In a statement sent to CBC News, the division said it hopes the move is a temporary stop-gap measure and that all will be able to return to classes on May 17.

École South Pointe will switch to online learning as of Monday, for at least two weeks. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The decision comes after Marie-Anne Gaboury school in the city’s Louis Riel School Division announced April 24 that it was going into remote learning for two weeks, starting this week, because of COVID-19 cases.

As of that day, there were 12 positive cases at the school in St. Vital, among both students and staff, school division superintendent Christian Michalik told CBC at the time.

In a letter to parents, he wrote that if in-school classes continued, the division would likely find itself unable to adequately staff the school due to the spread of the illness.

At least four other schools in the province have also recently moved to remote learning due to the pandemic’s third wave.

According to the province’s map of school-aged cases and school staff cases, South Pointe reported three COVID-19 case in the two weeks prior to April 26, including one case that was a variant of concern.

The school, on Kirkbridge Drive, has almost 1,000 kindergarten to Grade 8 students.

St. Avila, with more than 300 kindergarten to Grade 6 students, reported two COVID-19 cases with no variants in the same time span.

“We are focused on supporting our schools navigating COVID cases,” the division’s statement to CBC News said.

“Despite our community’s best efforts, to support health guidelines, we have made the decision to minimize community transmission and to proactively prevent staffing shortages” by turning to remote learning.

St. Avila school reported two COVID-19 cases in the two weeks before April 26. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Asked why the division didn’t immediately start home learning, superintendent for Pembina Trails Ted Fransen said the delay was “out of a regard for our families needing a bit of time to make adjustments in their schedules to accommodate a rather significant change to their routine.”

While the return date could change, Fransen is hopeful it doesn’t. Remote learning is not the way he wants the school year to finish.

“It is our fundamental belief that the best place for our students is in class, safety distanced, being taught by a qualified teacher. We want our students back ASAP,” he said, adding that a two-week period is the typical duration of self-isolation that public health uses.

“We decided to follow it.”

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