- After the province announced it would extend the winter break to give public health officials more time to assess the impact of the Omicron variant, Manitoba students will not return to class until at least January 10.
Manitoba students won’t return to class until at least January 10, after the province announced it would extend the winter break to allow public health officials more time to assess the impact of the Omicron variant.
However, according to Education Minister Cliff Cullen, it is still too early to predict how students will return to school in the coming year, including whether the break will be extended further or whether classes will shift to online learning in the coming year.
“To be honest, we’ve been down this road before. We’ve had to prepare for a variety of scenarios, “Cullen said during a Zoom news conference on Wednesday.
“We’ll try to get as much information to parents and students as soon as possible so they can be ready for what we hope will be a safe return to school in January.”
The majority of students were scheduled to return to class on Thursday, January 6. He claims that rescheduling the first day to the following Monday will give officials an extra four days to assess what changes are required.
“The thought was, if we can buy ourselves a couple of days [and] close off that week, we’ll have an opportunity over the next few weeks to assess where we’re at,” he said, adding that information on how the new coronavirus variant that causes COVID-19 might affect Manitoba is still emerging.
“We have no idea what we’re up against with this animal. This, I believe, is a good start toward buying us some more time.”
Staff will return on January 6 for professional development and preparation. According to Cullen, many child-care centers will remain open for children under the age of 12 so that families can continue to use them.
The delay will also give schools across the province more time to distribute rapid COVID-19 tests to students in kindergarten through Grade 6, he said.
As supplies continue to arrive, northern and First Nations communities and 17 of Manitoba’s school divisions have received the tests.
Cullen said he expects all of the province’s remaining divisions to receive theirs by starting classes.
The announcement arrives on the final day of classes before the winter break for most Manitoba schools.
Advocates say the extension isn’t long enough.
One Winnipeg teacher says she’s relieved to see the province taking steps to prevent an outbreak as people gather for the holidays in the coming weeks.
Nicole Lafrenière, however, isn’t convinced it goes far enough, especially as the more contagious Omicron variant spreads.
According to preliminary data from Hong Kong, Manitoba had 18 cases of that strain as of Wednesday, suggesting it multiplies 70 times faster than either the original SARS-CoV-2 or the Delta variant of the coronavirus. According to global data, Omicron has a doubling time of 1.5 to three days.
Some teachers are concerned that the four extra days of winter break won’t be long enough for people to start showing symptoms, according to Lafrenière, who teaches music at École Guyot in southeast Winnipeg. As a result, students who contract the virus may not realize they’re sick until they return to school.
“We’re concerned about how many children and adults will be infected or carrying Omicron or other variants by January 10, and they won’t have had time to get tested,” she said.
“After all the visiting, ten days isn’t nearly enough after January 1.”
Throughout the pandemic, Lafrenière has been a member of Safe September Manitoba. This advocacy group has been lobbying the government to make schools safer for students and staff.
In addition to its concerns about the extended winter break, she added that the group believes Manitoba’s latest restrictions do not go far enough to ensure that schools can reopen safely in the new year. She wants the province’s pandemic response system to be changed from its current state.
“We should be in code red right now [at] the community level, and the schools should be at least in code orange in January if we want schools to stay open once the holidays are over,” Lafrenière said.
Source: CBC News
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