Manitoba's Education Minister welcomed students back to school Tuesday morning, offering reassurance to their parents.

The school year has begun for many students across the province including those in the Seine River School Division and at Steinbach Christian School. Hanover School Division will welcome kids back to class on Wednesday.

Kelvin Goertzen admits this is going to be far from a normal school year, but he also says he believes it can be a really great year none the less. He notes teachers and administrators really deserve a lot of credit for the hard work they have put in over the last few days and weeks as they prepared. He adds in many ways, teachers have had to change the way they do their jobs this year.

"Some people have seen the physical spacing of the desks, hand sanitization stations, the directions, the arrows, a lot of different things in the schools. That preparatory work last week is critical for how things go, not just today, but in the days ahead and I really want to thank our teachers and our administrators for doing this under really difficult circumstances."

Goertzen notes some parents are concerned school safety protocols are not enough and many think they are too much, but ultimately, the province listened to public health when putting together their back to school plan.

"Parents and others who are in the system should take confidence from the fact that the plan was developed by, in consultation with, and ultimately approved by public health officials. In the same way that when there is a flood in Manitoba, we rely on the advice of the chief flood forecaster, this is a health crisis in which we are having the public health officer lead the response and that is I think where the confidence comes from."

Even though this is a time filled with uncertainty and anxiety, Goertzen encourages parents to do their best to remain optimistic.

"We all know, those of us that have had children, that ultimately the attitudes that our children take toward many things in life is a reflection of the attitude that we as parents have on those things and I am very very grateful for all of the parents who have been preparing their students for class today to go with optimism and to look forward to the school year and I think we have lots to be optimistic about."

Goertzen says there is no doubt that at one point, COVID-19 will be found within schools in Manitoba as the virus is in our society and schools are part of that society. When that happens, he assures parents that the province is committed to being transparent.

"Dr. Roussin has already made it clear that within 24 hours contract tracing will take place and then notification to those who have had a close contact if somebody has been transmissible within the school setting and then notification to the parents more broadly in that school that there has been a case within the school."

Goertzen notes this is not designed to add fear to the equation, instead they are hoping this transparency will help provide confidence in the system. He adds he believes administrators are going to do an outstanding job reacting to any cases that are found and then isolating those cases to prevent further spread.