Back to School 2020

Federal funding must go to schools | 1-09-2020

This letter was sent to Premier Brian Pallister, calling on the government to use the recently announced $85.4 federal funding to ensure that schools are safe and ready for the return of staff and students. The letter was also sent to the leaders of the opposition parties, Wab Kinew and Dougald Lamont.

Read letter here.


Funds cover range of expenses | 24-08-2020

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen today announced that the provincial government will be investing $52 million in the Safe Schools Fund to help ensure schools are safe and ready for the return of students and staff.

“We had asked government to put a dollar figure on its financial commitment for expenses incurred by the reopening of schools, so we are pleased that government has set aside these funds,” said MTS vice-president Nathan Martindale. “However, as the situation continues to evolve, there might be a need for increased funding and we will expect that the government will provide funds as needed to ensure the safety of everyone in our public schools.”

The minister said that the funding will be used to directly support schools, teachers and students across the province by:

  • providing non-medical and medical masks and personal protective equipment for students, teachers and staff;
  • enhancing cleaning and sanitization, including more supplies and custodial staffing;
  • increasing bus transportation capacity, including additional bus drivers and routes; and
  • ensuring substitute teachers and educational staff are available to keep schools open and children learning.

Martindale said that while funding for these measures are necessary and most welcome, there is no mention of smaller class sizes.

“Physical distancing is consistently pointed to as the best way to limit the spread of the virus,” he said. “Two-metres is the recommendation followed by the community, yet in schools, a one-metre distance is somehow acceptable. It makes no sense to have a lower safety standard in schools. Our schools should be the safest places.”

He said that the two-metre recommendation should be extended to schools and that a reduction in class size is necessary to achieve this level of physical distancing.

The Society is also hoping to see a plan for recruiting and retaining substitute teachers.

“We all agree that substitute teachers play a key role in ensuring the sustainability of in-class learning, but to date we have yet to see a plan for ensuring qualified subs are available,” he said.

Click here to read the announcement.


Masks mandated 4-12 | 19-08-2020

The Manitoba government today announced that non-medical masks will be mandatory for students and staff from Grades 4-12, when two – metres of social distancing cannot be achieved.

“The Society has advocated for mandatory masks for all staff and students, since social distancing is not possible in all classrooms,” said MTS president James Bedford. “We are pleased that the government has listened to the thousands of Manitobans, parents and teachers alike, and have taken these steps to offer this layer of protection and reassurance.”

While mandating masks is a step in the right direction, Bedford said that limiting class size remains a critical consideration in ensuring safe distancing.

“Social distancing is consistently pointed to as the best way to limit the spread of the virus,” he said. “The two-metre recommendation followed by the community should be extended to schools.”

The Society also supports a gradual return to school and rapid testing for teachers and continues to press the government for a plan outlining steps to ensure the availability of qualified subs.


MTS calls for mandatory masks in schools | 13-08-2020

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society today called on the government to mandate the wearing of masks by all staff, students and visitors in the province’s public schools.

“The province did not go far enough. A strong recommendation to wear a mask is still only a recommendation,” said MTS vice-president Nathan Martindale. “The safety of staff and students is our priority and simply put, masks only work if everyone is wearing them.”

The province has mandated the wearing of masks when on school buses for all students in Grades 5 and above.

“It makes no sense that masks are required for the bus ride to school, and then the students can take them off once they are at school,” said Martindale.

The province defended its position on masks by saying that physical distancing will be practiced to the fullest extent possible in all parts of the school, throughout the school day.

Martindale responded that the ability to adhere to the two-metre physical distance in classrooms is an issue in most schools, reinforcing the need for mandatory mask usage.

“Class size is directly related to students’ ability to socially distance and many of our classrooms are bursting at the seams,” he said. “Even a one-metre distance will be difficult to achieve. Masks will offer an added layer of protection.”

Martindale said that a reduction in class size must be a key component in the return to school plan.

Click here for more information on Manitoba’s back to school plan.


MTS presses govt. on safety issues | 13-08-2020

The government’s announced policy on masks at least answers one question teachers have had, but The Manitoba Teachers’ Society has other outstanding issues on which it expects action.

While Premier Brian Pallister has said teachers shouldn’t give in to fear, MTS continues to press the government for measures that would ease those fears for teachers, students and parents.

Safe Distances

Among a handful of concerns is the need to ensure safe, physical distancing in schools. In other words, class sizes are an issue. Currently, the province has only mandated that students be separated by one metre in classrooms. This, despite public health officials mandating physical distancing of two metres in other instances.

The government has only recommended that schools try to ensure two metres “to the greatest extent possible.”

In many classrooms, even the one-metre rule will only be accomplished by students at desks, in rows and never moving. MTS has pointed out to the government that restaurants must separate customers, but students and teachers are not afforded the same consideration.

The issue is really the size of classes. The government has not set a limit on class sizes. In meetings with provincial officials, MTS has been arguing that limiting class size is a critical consideration in ensuring safe distancing. It will continue to do so.

Safe distancing has been at the forefront of Public Health advice and what it has recommended for the community at large should also extend to schools.

The province has instructed that students be assigned to groups, called cohorts, and those groups would distance from one another, supposedly keeping any outbreak to a single cohort . However, teachers would still have to move between those groups.

Rapid Testing

Other occupations, from health care workers to professional athletes, have access to rapid testing and results, the government has not committed to making the same available to teachers. MTS wants to see rapid testing available to members to avoid having members forced to isolate for 14 days for no reason.

For example, a teacher who might exhibit a symptom of Covid-19 would have to stay home for 14 days. And if they got a regular test, it would be days before obtaining a result. Rapid testing would keep qualified teachers in the classroom.

Teachers are essential workers and, with the return to school, move to the frontline as well.

Gradual Return

MTS supports a gradual return to school for students. Some jurisdictions have undertaken a phased-in back-to-school approach. Having fewer students return immediately would allow for the identification and correction of problems.

For example, Denmark was one of the first countries to reopen schools and is considered to be a success. It began the process with K-5 students returning and older students a month later. It avoided having thousands of students and staff all experiencing new behaviours and routines all at once.

A progressive return could be done quickly over several days or more slowly over several weeks, easing anxiety for students, parents and teachers.

Substitute Teachers

The Society continues to press the government on the availability of substitute teachers. If a teacher has to self-isolate for 14 days, the need for a qualified sub is critical. Moreover, regular subs may not want to teach during this crisis.

MTS is calling for a plan outlining steps to ensure the availability of qualified subs. Discussions on the issue are continuing.

Funding

The Society has been requesting an indication from the province as to what its financial commitment will be for expenses incurred by the reopening of schools. An accounting of costs would show the level of commitment and sustainability for measures that must be undertaken by divisions and schools.


Pallister should show his lack of fear | 13-08-2020

A teacher on Twitter may have had the most succinct reply to Premier Brian Pallister’s comments that teachers shouldn’t fear going back to the classroom.

She wondered whether the premier, a trained teacher, would be volunteering as a substitute when classes resume.

During a news conference Wednesday, Pallister was asked what he would say to teachers who were anxious about the reopening of schools.

He replied: “We can’t give in to fear. Fear can’t be our master. Fear and panic cannot be a plan.”

The vice-president of MTS said the comments were insensitive to the legitimate concerns of not just teachers, but parents and students as well.

“It was disappointing to hear the premier’s message yesterday about not being guided by fear,” said Nathan Martindale. “Quite frankly it was quite crass. We are afraid. Parents, students, teachers are all anxious about heading back to school.

“We are unsure about what the future holds. The government can help alleviate these fears and anxieties by making the necessary investments to ensure any one who enters a public school is protected.”

MTS is advocating that the government make mandatory the wearing of masks by all students and staff in schools.

The concern of the organization and teachers is that rules promoting safety in the general public have been modified and relaxed for schools. For example, physical distancing suggestions and rules for some businesses do not have to be followed in schools. The province says schools need only have a one-metre separation of students. Rules outside schools call for physical distancing of two metres.