School’s out for the summer, but summer could be a bit shorter than usual this year.
That’s according to Premier Brian Pallister, who said during Thursday's press conference that in-person classes are suspended for the rest of the school year.
Instead, he proposed bringing kids back from summer vacation a week earlier than normal.
With slightly more than a month left in the school year, schools will likely also be reopening on a limited basis to provide extra tutoring to students struggling with distance learning during the pandemic.
"We are currently examining the safe, limited reopening of educational facilities this spring to allow for additional tutorial days, such as one-on-one learning, assessments and specific programming," Pallister said.
Even with the number of people allowed to gather indoors raised to 25 and outside raised to 50 as of today with some Phase 2 elements being implemented early, the premier said it was "extremely unlikely" that high schools would be allowed to hold ceremonies for graduating Grade 12 students.
He also proposed two one-time changes to the 2020-21 school year. The first is that classes would start a week earlier than normal, on Aug. 31, to provide extra time for students to catch up.
Under the same reasoning, Pallister proposed that some non-instructional days during the next school year be repurposed to provide extra instruction for students needing to catch up after the pandemic.
"I would emphasize to my friends at the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, obviously we’re going to be in discussion with you about how we
facilitate these changes," the premier said.
Nathan Martindale, vice-president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, told the Sun the announcements didn’t come as a surprise, as the education department and Minister Kelvin Goertzen had brought up several of the proposals during his regular communication with the union.
"It’s a proposed plan at this point, so we’re looking forward to more conversations with the government," he said.
Today, the society is holding its annual general meeting with 333 delegates connecting over Zoom. Martindale said the proposals brought up by the premier on Thursday would likely not come up as they’ve had to tightly schedule the meeting due to platform and timing restrictions.
The Sun was unable to reach Brandon Teachers’ Association president Cale Dunbar for comment on Thursday.
Brandon School Division Supt. Marc Casavant said Thursday that with graduation ceremonies not being possible, other ways of celebrating graduating students’ successes are being looked into. He said a survey was circulated among families of Grade 12 students, and they are looking through the answers to see what people are looking for.
Casavant said the suspension of in-person classes for the rest of the school year will help schools and teachers focus on assessing students and preparing for what the transition to the next school year, whatever form it takes, looks like.
He said the division will be ready to work with its partners to implement any changes made to the next school year.
"I think the biggest challenge is assessing where people are at with returning back into this environment, whether it’s the workplace or things resuming to any form of normalcy that we knew. ... I don’t think what we’ve seen in the rear-view mirror for what normal used to be might not be normal moving forward."
"As a parent, I don’t like the idea of my summertime with my kids being shortened," Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew told the Sun Thursday afternoon. "I’m concerned that the premier’s approach here won’t address summer learning loss adequately. Trying to cram into one week at the end of August and beginning of September all the information that kids (are) at risk of losing isn’t going to work as other approaches might. The province has to get creative at this time and help kids who are struggling with the digital divide, struggling with not adapting to online learning as well as they could."
Kinew said programs such as summer camps won’t be possible under the current conditions, but he thinks community organizations might be able to help kids engage with their learning in fun ways to avoid summer learning loss.
On the subject of non-instructional days getting repurposed, Kinew said he felt that proposal was a sign that educators were not sufficiently consulted when making up this education plan.
After provincial chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced Wednesday that Manitoba is handling COVID-19 well enough to implement elements of Phase 2 of the province’s reopening plan, Pallister provided a few more details Thursday of what form that might take.
"Key criteria have been met since the implementation of Phase 1 that allow us to now look at further easing public health measures," Pallister said.
Elements of Phase 2 include allowing expanded outdoor services for religious organizations, expanded child-care centre capacities from 16 kids to 24, reopening community centres, resuming team sports, resuming indoor services at restaurants, reopening swimming pools, spas, fitness clubs and gyms and expanding personal services.
On the subject of lifting some restrictions early, Kinew said he though Manitobans had done a good job in flattening the curve but felt that the province needs to do a better job making public health orders more clear to the public.
"What I’ve noticed every time either restrictions have been put in or they’ve begun to be lifted is that there’s so many questions the public has," Kinew said. "I really want to see the province be really, really proactive in helping to share information and helping Manitobans."
Effective Friday, professional sports teams in the province are allowed to reopen their training facilities to staff and players.
Full details of the province’s draft plan including capacities and regulations for Phase 2 as well as the ability to provide feedback and ask questions can be found online at engagemb.ca
Dates have not yet been set for the implementation of the rest of Phase 2. The premier reiterated that the relaxing of some public health orders does not mean that the fight against COVID-19 is finished.
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