The Education Minister offered additional details Wednesday on how the province plans on dealing with COVID-19 cases in schools.
Kelvin Goertzen says it will be the province’s priority to publicize positive cases in schools in such a way as to take care of both the medical and emotional needs of parents and students.
“I would like to see more transparency because I think it will provide more confidence than less. My belief is that we should be providing as much information as we can when it comes to particular schools.”
When classes begin on September 8, Goertzen says the COVID-19 bulletins Manitobans have grown accustomed to will include information on how the virus is transmitting in places of education.
While the province’s exact strategy for releasing school-related data is still undetermined, Goertzen says he is pushing for specifics. He feels the individual health regions are so large that simply stating the number of cases among students and teachers in “Southern Health,” for example, could simultaneously spook residents of Steinbach, Portage, and Winkler when only one of those cities is actually seeing an outbreak.
He stresses that the goal of provincial health authorities is to disperse information that is helpful rather than fearmongering. For that very reason, Goertzen says not every positive case of the virus in a school will be disclosed in the same way.
“Every time a student is confirmed to have COVID-19 it does not mean they contracted it in the school nor that they spread it in the school,” he shares. “What Public Health has indicated is that they intend to offer information where there has been positive cases [contracted] in schools and where there has been an infectious period in schools.”
Schools, he says, have been very intentional in making plans that will not require them to shut down their operations if positive cases are found within their walls. These in-depth strategies have been developed, in part, to keep students actively engaged rather than having them learn from home as they did in spring.
“The best place for a child to learn is in the classroom,” says Goertzen, reiterating what has become almost a slogan for his department in recent months. He says content for remote learning is being developed by schools in case circumstances necessitate it, but the province’s objective is to keep kids learning in the atmosphere they learn in best.
As an almost surprising aside, Goertzen says the number of Manitoba students registered for homeschooling this year is currently below what it was in September of 2019. Last year, he says 3,800 kids were signed up for homeschool; right now there are only 1,600.
Goertzen acknowledges that number will go up in the coming days as there remains a high level of concern around the return to classes. Indeed, a major focus of today’s address was shedding light on a new online resource to help mitigate those concerns. He says the Manitoba government has prepared a number of informational materials for students, parents, and teachers to sate those anxieties. Frequently asked questions will be addressed and updated on the government’s education website in the coming weeks and months.