SDML schools ready for remote learning if needed but current risk of in-school transmission is low

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 was the main topic of conversation at the Nov. 24 School District of Mystery Lake (SDML) board meeting.

Mike Lawson appeared before the board as a delegation, asking about COVID-19 pandemic plans to shift schools from orange (restricted) under Manitoba’s Pandemic Response System, where they are now, to red (critical) if and when necessary.

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“Have there been some deliberations around a local response to COVID ahead of a decision from the province?” asked Lawson, who is married to a teacher. “Does the SDML have a number in mind of cases in Thompson where we would maybe make a local decision rather than waiting for the province to initiate a code red?”

Co-superintendent Angele Bartlett told Lawson that the SDML takes its direction from public health, which considers the transmission risk in the district’s schools to be low right now because of the protocols in place.

To date, there have been four possible exposures to COVID-19 reported in the district, at Deerwood School, Westwood School twice and R.D. Parker Collegiate, with the most recent potential exposure having occurred Nov. 16-20, according to a letter sent to Westwood School parents Nov. 25.

Bartlett also said that schools can be ready to shift from orange to red status within 24 hours.

“All that legwork’s being done right now,” she said.

Three additional non-instruction days that were added to the school calendar by the provincial government will be used for professional development related to remote learning, said co-superintendent Lorie Henderson. 

She also noted that shifting to remote learning, if necessary, will be relatively easy at the high school, since students there are only attending classes two days per week, divided into two groups.

In the event that the district or all the province’s schools were moved to the critical designation, in-school learning would still be offered to children in kindergarten to Grade 6 whose parents are critical service workers as well as students with special needs, if alternative supervision arrangements can’t be made. 

However, many of them would actually be participating in the same remote learning as their classmates, possibly under supervision by staff other than their regular teacher.

Bartlett also said that school principals are meeting this week to discuss their code red plans as well as what sort of information about possible COVID-19 exposures they can release before public health finishes contact tracing, since the sheer volume of contact tracing needing to be done across the province is so high right now.

Secretary treasurer Kelly Knott said that, of the $8,914,523 SDML has spent from its budget so far this year, $778,271 has gone to COVID-19 related expenses, including $350,000 for additional staffing requirements,

Finance, property and personnel committee chairperson trustee Don Macdonald said the district is starting work on its budget for the next school year soon with several scenarios under consideration, since the amount of funding coming from the province isn’t yet known and it may include in-class learning, remote learning or both.

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