Teacher gives Manitoba government a failing grade on COVID-19 back-to-school plan

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A Winnipeg teacher said the provincial government had failed in its COVID-19 back-to-school plan, and its response prompted a grassroots social media campaign demanding more protection for students and teachers in September .“If I had given my students this assignment and given them five months to make a plan and had them use good investigative skills to find evidence of what a good plan looks like, I would fail them. all about what they came back with, ”said Lauren Hope, who teaches math and science in private and public schools in Winnipeg.

The province released specific back-to-school guidelines last Thursday and provided more details on Friday. Manitoba students in grades 5 and up will be required to wear non-medical masks on school buses.

The province also strongly recommends – but does not mandate – the use of masks for students in Grades 5 to 12 in common areas and school spaces where physical distancing is not possible.

WATCH | Teacher Lauren Hope explains why she and others started the #SafeSeptemberMB campaign

Teacher Lauren Hope explains why she and others started a #safeseptembermb campaign. 3:33

Schools are asked to ensure that facilities have good ventilation and windows open if possible.

They will also need to schedule lessons to avoid giving students spare parts and ensure that students stay in smaller cohorts when the two-meter distance is not possible.

Home schooling is not an option for many

For many families, home schooling and distance learning are not options, and they create equity issues, widening the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged families, Hope said.

“Schools offer a lot more than learning. They provide meals, safety and support programs for many of our students and their families as well, so taking them out of the classroom further marginalizes students who are very vulnerable to many things ”. she says.

After sharing his concerns on social media, hundreds of other teachers and parents have reached out to share their frustration.

They have now banded together to form an advocacy group and a social media campaign called #SafeSeptemberMB.

Christine Emberley, a teacher and parent from Halifax, hosted the Safe September rally outside of Province House in Halifax on August 10. (CBC)

They are inspired by a similar group in Nova Scotia who are concerned about a 100% return to learning as usual. Nova Scotia’s back-to-school plan does not require masks, but they are encouraged when physical distancing is not possible.

Difficult choices for parents

Wadood Myireh (left) has two children in high school, Sofia, 14, and Imran, 16, plus a son starting college in Brandon, Manitoba. this autumn. He fears they may be infected with COVID-19 and would prefer online education for all. (Emma Varley)

Wadood Myireh got involved with #SafeSeptemberMB because he is concerned about the health of his three children. Two go to high school and one begins university in Brandon, Manitoba.

“My concern is that there is no proper protocol in schools and I will not send my children until I am sure they are safe at school,” he said. declared.

The Brandon School Division released its plans to bring students back to class this fall on Friday.

All students and staff will have access to the masks, but they will not be mandated. Children up to grade 8 will return to class full time, while high school students will do half of their learning online. The administrative staff will have permanent plexiglass installed on their stations.

Still, Myireh and his wife would prefer the three children to take their classes online.

“On computers and maybe even on TV and making programs on YouTube. And children can watch and parents can watch [it] in the evening with them, ”he said.

Outrage, disappointment and worry

Hope said she spoke out because many of her fellow teachers couldn’t, out of fear for their jobs.

“It is impossible for me to separate my reaction as a teacher and a parent because I wear these hats simultaneously like many teachers do, so I would characterize my reaction first as indignation, disappointment and fear and with a valid reason and just a deep concern for all the people whose voices will not be heard with these decisions, ”Hope said.

She is also concerned about her health and that of her two children – and she doesn’t want either of them putting her 85-year-old mother at risk for COVID-19.

The Manitoba group has an online petition with eight requests:

  • State-funded, school-funded education and assessment for all students, whether they learn in the classroom or at a distance from home.
  • School employees who want to work remotely should get what they need to support distance education.
  • Classrooms are small enough to allow a physical distance of two meters.
  • Make the use of the mask mandatory for all teachers, staff and students, with exemptions where appropriate.
  • Evaluate ventilation and / or filtration systems in all school settings and follow all recommendations for required upgrades.
  • Reinstate the mandatory two-week self-isolation order for all non-essential travelers out of province.
  • Grant fully paid sick leave to all employees in the division who self-isolate while ill, awaiting COVID-19 test results, or recovering from COVID-19, including replacement employees.
  • Hire occasional teachers and additional teaching assistants to cover any staff on leave.

The group hopes to organize a physical remote rally at the Manitoba Legislature.

They also encouraged members to join the August 18 conference call and share their views with Manitoba’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brent Roussin, and Minister of Education Kelvin Goertzen.

“I want to be in school. I want to teach. I want my kids to be in school and I want to see my students, ”Hope said.

“So the only barrier to that is providing a plan that is secure and that requires resources that the government has not directly committed to. This underfunded and underplanned document does not do that. “

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