MTS supports school return, questions remain
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society supports the provincial government’s efforts to re-institute in-class teaching and learning for the coming school year.
It has always been the position of MTS that student learning is best accomplished by teachers, in a classroom setting.
While the government plan, developed in consultation with The Society and other education stakeholders, is a positive step, MTS has concerns about its possible implementation.
It is now up to more than 35 school divisions to enact the protocols set out by the province. That could result in more than 35 different plans, says James Bedford, MTS president.
MTS has been involved in extensive discussions with the province and other stakeholders in development of the back-to-school plan. And will continue to work to ensure guidelines are followed or need changes.
Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen has acknowledged it is expected changes will likely be necessary as schools re-open.
In discussions with the province, MTS focused on five principles:
- The health and safety of all staff and students is crucial.
- Collective agreements must be respected.
- Teachers are the most reliable source of information for questions about teaching and learning.
- Decision-making should be informed by data and science.
- Ongoing collaboration and communication among education stakeholders is key.
As well, MTS stressed in those meetings that there are issues that are non-negotiable such as breaches of public health orders, any contravention of collective agreements, having symptomatic students remain in classrooms and unilateral program cuts. Any of those could result in consideration of legal or statutory action.
Bedford said there are also concerns about teacher workload, especially among teachers who might be asked to teach in-class students and those who will still be learning remotely.
Questions remain about the return. Bedford hopes those are answered in coming days. More financial and other resources will be needed to ensure safety in schools, but there has not yet been a commitment by the government as to how those will be provided.
Other details that need to be clarified include what class sizes will look like and how grouping students into cohorts will be operational in schools. And will PPE be needed down the road and if so what will that look like in classrooms?
“MTS will continue to work with the province and other stakeholders to ensure teachers and staff are protected and that teaching and student learning are not compromised,” Bedford said.
Government return to school plan
All students will be returning to school in September, the government has announced.
Students in grades K-8 will return full-time in regular classrooms while 9-12 students will work both in-class and remotely, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said. Students with special needs will return full-time.
The government released an extensive list of what it termed “guidelines” for divisions and schools to restart in-school learning. The document does make clear some of the guidelines are mandatory.
It says communication, screening, enhanced hand hygiene, physical distancing and use of grouping students will be paramount.
“Schools will not look like they did last September,” Goertzen said. “Each school will look a little bit different.”
The plan calls for changes such as classrooms to be configured to support physical distancing, that lunch and recess breaks be staggered and up to 75 students be grouped to avoid contact between all students. As of now, masks will be not mandatory, but that could change.
“We need to be prepared for things to change,” he said. “It’s the reality of dealing with a pandemic.”
Schools will have to consider ways to reduce traffic and congestion in hallways by limiting non-essential visitors and possibly having teachers rather than students move from class to class.
Technical and vocational programming can continue, “provided public health measures such as daily symptom monitoring, physical distancing and/or cohorts are maintained.”
In complying with the government protocols, divisions will be expected to post their plans on their websites by mid-August.
The plan recognizes that accepted physical distancing may not be possible in all schools.
“Strict physical distancing at all times, particularly with young children, is not practical in the school setting. The purpose of cohorts is to limit the mixing of students and staff so that if a child or employee develops an infection, there are fewer possible exposures and contact tracing can be more easily done.
“There is no limit on the number of cohorts, as long as distinct cohorts of 75 can be separated to prevent contact with other groups.”
Schools will be expected to ensure washrooms and lunchrooms are cleaned/disinfected frequently and that water fountains that aren’t touchless be turned off. Outdoor activities are to be encouraged while field trips, assemblies and other large events aren’t to be scheduled unless public heath requirements can be met.
I have to wear a mask / What if I want to wear a mask?
At this time, Public Health guidance does not require students and staff to wear masks or other PPE in school settings or on school buses with the exception of wearing a medical mask (surgical or procedural) when unable to maintain a distance of two metres from a student who is exhibiting signs or symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.
Some staff and children may choose to bring and wear a non-medical mask while in the facility. If a non-medical mask is used, hands should be cleaned before and after putting it on and taking it off. Follow the use of non-medical masks, including removal according to the recommendations for the use of medical masks https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/covid-19-safely-use-non-medical-mask-face-covering.html
I’m worried about the lack of subs, should I report to work if I don’t feel well?
No – Use the screening tool on the Shared Health website https://sharedhealthmb.ca/covid19/screening-tool/
A student in my class is showing symptoms of a cold/flu. What should I do?
Immediately report this to your Principal and follow your division plan for the isolation of that individual. In general: If someone develops symptoms while at the school, they should be isolated in a predetermined isolation space. Where a separate room is not available, they should be kept at least two metres away from others.
What if I develop symptoms at work?
If a staff member or volunteer in a school becomes symptomatic, they should immediately isolate themselves from other staff and students, notify their administrator, and go home to isolate. https://sharedhealthmb.ca/covid19/screening-tool/
What are the Physical Distancing rules at school?
Public Health has determined that two metres of physical distancing is required to the greatest extent possible. Where possible, arrange spaces and schedules to encourage the recommended separation. Exact measurements are not required between desks; however, there should be a minimum of one metre between students as they sit at their desks.
If there are cases at our school will the school close?
Not necessarily, In the event that a case of COVID-19 is confirmed to be connected with a school, public health will provide additional guidance including ensuring appropriate supports are in place to coordinate the response. Early detection and proactive measures to minimize the risk of transmission will assist with limiting the impact of a case within the school, and may allow the outbreak response to be targeted to a specific cohort.
Will someone tell me if one of my students tested positive for Covid-19?
Public Health is responsible for contact tracing of any individual who tests positive. Schools may be required to share records that identify cohorts/groups of staff, students, volunteers and visitors in the school for a specified timeframe. PHIA does not allow the sharing of personal health information.
What about recess?
Public health advises that playgrounds and play structures are low risk for transmission and no specific requirements for cleaning play structures are recommended.
- Do not permit students to bring equipment from home.
- Maintain separate containers of equipment for each class or cohort and clean between recess periods.
- Mark zones, manage group sizes, and avoid contact among groups.
- Minimize contact sport engagement to ensure social distancing.
- Ensure handwashing or hand hygiene is performed before and after recess.
I stayed home yesterday because I had a sore throat, today I feel fine. Should I go to work?
Use the screening tool https://sharedhealthmb.ca/covid19/screening-tool/
I may need an accommodation, what should I do?
Contact a TW Staff Officer at MTS for advice.