Parents and teachers anxious about return to remote learning as virus surges in Manitoba

Teachers and parents in Winnipeg and Brandon say they will be scrambling to be ready for schools to switch to remote learning on Wednesday as the province aims to curtail community transmission of COVID-19.

Laura Layden, a mom of two in Winnipeg, said the news was anticipated, but not on a Sunday afternoon.

“I wasn’t expecting it on Mother’s Day, and so it was a little bit of a downer on a day that is supposed to be relaxing during the day with your family,” she said.

Her day was not relaxing.

Layden and her husband now have to coordinate who will stay home — and when — to supervise their kids, who are in grades 2 and 6 and not able to independently learn.

Laura Layden, a mom of two in Winnipeg, says her kids are disappointed they’re going back to remote learning. She hopes people will do their part to keep COVID-19 numbers down so it will be a short stint. (Submitted by Laura Layden)

“Remote learning is difficult. It’s hard trying to do everything online and not having your teacher’s help constantly,” she said.

The province announced on Sunday that all students in Manitoba’s two biggest cities will stay at home until May 30.

These schools will still be able to accommodate children of critical service workers from kindergarten to Grade 6. They’ll also be able to have K-12 students deemed high risk or who have certain disabilities in the school.

This move is one the Manitoba Teachers Society has been calling for.

“Taking this action now is the quickest way to protect as many teacher, student and community lives as possible,” said Nathan Martindale, the vice president.

“We’re happy that the government has finally listened to our call.”

The Manitoba government’s decision to move some schools to remote learning came as calls grew to shut down classrooms amid the province’s rising third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Martindale says that although this is a necessary move by the province, it’s still stress-inducing for parents, students and teachers.

“We already know that our members are stressed out and this will have an impact on their mental health. At the same time, many parents are going to be scrambling to find childcare for their children if they’re not part of that critical services worker definition,” he said.

“There’s going to be a lot of anxiety across Winnipeg and Brandon in the next 48, 72 hours.”

Others are worried about quality of education taking a hit during this period of online learning.

Brenda Brazeau, the executive director of the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils, which seeks to promote and enhance the involvement of parents and caregivers in school communities, says she hopes the remote learning period will be more smooth this time around.

“Any time you take a child out of school, you’re concerned. We know that there are children that are struggling with remote learning. There are parents that are struggling with the remote learning,” she said.

Teachers prioritized for vaccines

Although he’s happy with the news, Martindale said he’s disappointed teachers are still not being prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines.

“We shouldn’t even be having this conversation,” he said. “This provincial government should have made the decision to prioritize teachers and other educational staff and buildings back in February.”

The Manitoba Teachers Society wants to see educators prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said teachers who are over 35, or live or work in COVID-19 hotspots are eligible for the vaccine.

He’s also optimistic that it will be safe for students to return to classes in June, especially since it’s “very likely” all Manitobans 12 years of age and older will be eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 sometime this month.

Layden hopes that’s true.

“Hopefully everybody does their part and we can make this a short stint this time of keeping our kids home and that they’ll be back to enjoy the remainder of the year before the summer break.”