Manitoba students from Grade 7 to 12 will shift to remote learning for two weeks following the winter break as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, Manitoba’s education minister says.
The two-week remote-learning period, starting Jan. 4 and continuing to Jan. 15, will be mandatory for students in grades 7 to 12, but will also be an option for kindergarten to Grade 6 students if families want to keep younger kids at home, Minister Kelvin Goertzen said at a Wednesday news conference.
“These decisions, we know have various impacts,” he said.
“They’re not made lightly … but they are made in consultation with public health and with the understanding that we believe, and still believe, that the best place for students to learn is in the classroom where it is safe to do so.”
In a news release announcing the shift, the province said the preventative measure is focused on grades 7 to 12 because older students tend to have more contacts, and so have a higher likelihood of transmitting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In addition, they’re more amenable to online learning.
The mandatory shift to remote learning for Grade 7-12 students will keep close to half of the province’s student body at home, the province says.
Manitoba is currently under a strict lockdown barring visitors to homes. Stores are also prohibiting the purchase of non-essentials due to the high COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations.
On Wednesday, the province reported there are 351 people in hospital, including 51 in intensive care, marking yet another new record.
Goertzen said the decision to begin remote learning after the scheduled break was made to allow some time to shift to remote learning, and also to ensure COVID-19 numbers don’t spike after the return to school.
“We have seen traditionally in other places, and in Manitoba … that the COVID-19 numbers can go up over the break. This provides, from a public health perspective, some additional assurance just to see what those numbers are looking like,” he said.
Goertzen couldn’t say with certainty if the remote-learning period will continue after the two weeks are over.
“Making predictions during a pandemic has proven not to be a good business to be in,” he said.
“But our priority is to have schools operating.”