Provincial officials are sharing why many schools are remaining online until the end of the school year.
For almost a month, education and public health officials have been holding out hope for in-person classes in Winnipeg, Brandon, and recently Garden Valley and Red River Valley school divisions. On Thursday, Education Minister Cliff Cullen and Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Jazz Atwal announced a final decision.
"Schools in Winnipeg, Brandon, and the Garden Valley and Red River Valley school divisions will remain in remote learning until the end of the year. Unless directed by Public Health, schools in remote learning across Manitoba will be able to have students return in limited capacity starting June 14," Cullen says, noting the return is for assessments and meetings, not lessons.
Schools in Morden will move online for two weeks starting on Monday, bringing close to half of all Manitoba schools online. Approximately 20 percent of critical workers continue to have their children in the classroom.
Atwal says this move is because the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases remains in the 300s, anticipating rising hospitalization rates to follow.
"Our case numbers aren't where they need to be on our acute care system. Numbers are still high and we still need to worry about that and we're going to have to continue worrying about it for the next few weeks as well. So when we looked at all that information it was felt this was the best way to continue forward," Atwal says.
The doctor reiterates that schools are safe, but things such as how the students go to school and what they do after are where transmission is occurring.
"I've got three kids in school. I have two 10-year-olds and a 13-year-old. They've never been healthier. They haven't been sick at all since the pandemic and a lot of it is attributed to the mask use, the cohorts the distancing at school, and the adherence of that on my kids' part as well as what schools have done."
He is noting that there is a toll on student mental health when they can not be together and is hopeful change is coming.
“Moving back and forth between in-person and remote learning is detrimental to the mental health of students, families and teachers alike," Manitoba Teachers Society President James Bedford says in a statement.
He says asking for more transparency and communication around what triggers the move to remote learning.
Back to class in September
Atwal is hoping vaccinations bring an end to the back and forth of in-person and remote learning.
"It's sad to see school end early last year it's sad to see the point where we are at with schools right now for those kids, for graduates even trying to graduate," the doctor says. "The vaccination program vaccines are going to be able to you know provide that glimmer of hope that we're going to get back to some normalcy."
With trials underway studying how children younger than 12 getting the vaccine, Atwal says if approved, this will impact in-person school regulations.
"I think we're going to be in a better spot for sure at the start of the school year next year and hopefully that will continue on throughout the entire school year."
Cullen says their priority is to have students safely back in the classroom.