The Manitoba government pushed back the date that kindergarten to Grade 12 students will return to classrooms by a week Jan. 4. announcing that remote learning only would be utilized Jan. 10-15 with students expected to resume in-person studies on Jan. 17.
It marks the second time that the province has changed post-Christmas break return to school plans in the face of the omicron COVID-19 variant driving up case counts dramatically in the past couple of weeks.
Previously, the date that school resumed was moved back from the middle of this week to Jan. 10.
Education Minister Cliff Cullen said Tuesday that instituting a remote learning period would give school divisions and individual schools time to develop and implement enhanced protocols intended to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and to create contingency plans to address expected increases in absenteeism and staff shortages.
“The schools are asking for time to do those evaluations,” he said at a Jan . 4 news conference with Premier Heather Stefanson and deputy chief public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal. “All of those decisions will have to be made at the local level. It has to be safe area to be learning."
Stefanson said she firmly believes in-person classes will resume for all students Jan. 17.
“We’re very confident that the extra week will allow for that to happen,” she said.
Atwal said that the record-high case counts Manitoba is currently experiencing, which are an underestimate since young, healthy people are being advised not to seek testing unless absolutely necessary and there is a backlog of approximately 6,500 COVID tests that haven’t been processed, aren’t unexpected but that time is needed to learn more about how omicron will affect the provincial health care system.
In-person learning will remain available Jan. 10-15 for students from kindergarten to Grade 6 whose parents are critical service workers and all students with special learning needs from kindergarten to Grade 12 if no alternate care is available.
Child care centres that aren’t normally open during school breaks will be open to offer before- and after-school care to children of critical service workers, the province said in a press release.
Cullen also announced that Manitoba schools, are getting an additional $80 million in funding this year to cover new wage agreements with teachers and other increased costs that they are facing. This is in addition to $63 million announced earlier this year to help schools cope with costs related to providing in-person learning during the pandemic.