Spring 2020

K-12 Education in Manitoba Buffaloed by Pandemic

As of March 23, education in Manitoba’s K-12 schools has looked a lot different than it did the week before. Due to the Province’s Health Order to practice physical distancing, school has gone from school classrooms to students’ kitchens and living rooms. What was originally to be a 2-week pause to the 2019-2020 school year is now an indefinite suspension of classes with the very realistic possibility of seeing the remainder of instruction for the 2019-2020 school year being handled remotely. The position of The Manitoba Teachers’ Society does not refer to this new reality as home-schooling but as remote learning or learning from home.

I am sure that all of the educational decision makers (Ministers, Superintendents, Principals, Teachers and Trustees) have little, to most likely no experience in dealing with a situation like this. I can’t remember ever seeing a University course or PD Session entitled Schools and Pandemics 101.

To set the record straight, everyone involved in making decisions are doing what they feel is best. With no manual or other experiences to follow, decisions made one day are often modified the next or even modified later in the same day.

Across the Province, teachers have the choice to work from home or to head to their buildings to gather materials to plan and/or work, all the while observing physical distancing. Here is the directive from MTS which can be found on their website:

  • The directive from federal and provincial public health officials is for all of us to stay at home as much as possible. In turn, that is the position of MTS to its membership.
  • If there is an urgent need to access classroom resources at your school, you must comply with all public health orders and your employer must ensure social distancing occurs.
  • If you’re directed to attend your school and you feel unsafe doing so, under the WSH Act you have the right to refuse dangerous work.

For Principals throughout Manitoba, the situation is slightly different. As schools are technically still open, a majority of Divisions are expecting Principals to be in their buildings to assist teachers,  direct custodial staff (if still working), support administrative staff (most still working) and to answer questions from parents. Principals who need flexibility with this request because of personal circumstances have the ability to discuss their case with their Supervisor on an individual basis. When concerns have risen, COSL’s liaisons with MTS have advocated for COSL members to see that they have been treated fairly.

What does the new reality mean for school leaders in Manitoba? In speaking with several members over the past several weeks, some general questions and wonderings have been raised. Here is a list of some of the more common ones:

  • How long do we need to be in our buildings each day?
  • Supporting staff in learning and using new platforms that they may have never used
  • How to keep in contact with staff? How often?
  • Managing Zoom, Microsoft Teams or whatever video conference they are using
  • Organizing technology for those who don’t have hardware and/or connectivity
  • Allowing students/parents access to building to safely pick up supplies
  • Providing supplies and necessities(food)to students/families in need
  • Mental well-being of staff and students
  • Trying to provide meaningful work for support staff so they can remain employed
  • Keeping logs of staff activities
  • Why are things different in another Division? Within another school in the same Division?
  • The use of social media in communicating with students and their parents, what are the parameters/boundaries that should be followed?

The list provided captures the main points, but because of the uncertainty surrounding the Pandemic and the lack of anyone having any experiences with this type of situation, answers continually evolve and new questions arise.

Governments are turning to School Divisions to save money. This past week in Manitoba several divisions have issued layoff notices for EAs, bus drivers, crossing guards and lunch supervisors. Many of these initial layoffs have been with part-time employees but will it stop there? In some Divisions, staff have been retained if they choose to accept a change to their assignment.

School Divisions are looking for different ways to provide programming for their students from setting up mobile breakfast/lunch programs to be delivered by Division staff to setting up Wi-Fi hotspots in their communities in schools and even on school busses parked in a central location.

Recently the Government has come out with guidelines for the amount of work teachers should be sending home by grade (similar to other Provincial guidelines). There are different hourly expectations for the different grade levels. Students are expected to engage in remote learning. High School students who do not keep engaged with their remote learning will be required to take recovery learning the next school year with this being noted on their report cards.

Guiding Principles of Province’s Response to Educational Planning

  • Learning and assessment will continue for all students.
  • No student will be held back due to the pandemic. Students on track to graduate will graduate. Adult learners will be included in planning.
  • Families, schools, and school divisions, educational partners, and Manitoba Education are working together to ensure student achievement and success, and planning for individual student needs and circumstances as needed.
  • Resources will be redirected to ensure that students actively engage in learning during the suspension of classroom learning.
  • The plan is future-oriented. Efforts are forward-looking both to reopening classrooms and planning for a variety of recovery learning needs in the fall.

Partners Roles and Responsibilities

  • Manitoba Education
    • Coordinate and oversee provincial-level planning in response to the suspension of in class learning
    • Facilitate K to 12 stakeholder communication and planning pertaining to issues, priorities, and implementation of pandemic response planning
    • Resolve urgent matters, make recommendations regarding resource implications of response plans, and outline opportunities for future system improvement. Some examples include expanding distance/online learning resources, establishing a parent/ caregiver portal for engaging in education, and improving the Manitoba Professional Learning Environment (Maple).
    • Ensure accessible resources to support parents and caregivers, as well as students who are at risk.
  • School Divisions and School Leaders
    • Participate in local and provincial planning.
    • While considering their local context, implement provincial expectations for teaching, learning, and assessment.
    • Review and reallocate resources as needed to facilitate teaching and learning (i.e., non-teaching staff, technology, online platforms, print-based materials).
    • Mobilize supports for students who are at risk.
    • Support school staff as they change and adapt to learning at home.
    • Ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that home-school communication continues with families.
  • Teachers
    • Collaborate with school administration to implement the plans for teaching and learning.
    • Evaluate curricular outcomes that have not yet been covered and prioritize remaining outcomes based on what is manageable for students working from home.
    • Provide equitable learning opportunities for all students.
    • Work closely with families to implement learning opportunities that support grade-level outcomes.
    • Provide ongoing support for student learning, including support for families for learning at home.
    • Monitor and assess student learning.
    • Assign a final grade and identify future learning needs

For the complete document from Manitoba Education on their response planning for Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K–12) learning during COVID-19 suspension of classes go https://manitoba.ca/asset_library/en/coronavirus/education_response_plan_k-12.pdf

When the school year began back in September who would ever have thought that teaching would end up looking like it is today. There are many examples of school staff’s going above and beyond to ensure that their students are not only still learning but are also still feeling cared for. Stay well.

AUTHOR BIO:
Myles Blahut is the Chairperson of the Council of School Leaders of The Manitoba Teacher’s Society. He has a 35-year career in education, the last 19 as a Principal.