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MVSD preparing for post-holiday changes

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Instead of heading back to the classroom following the Christmas break, Grades 7 to 12 students in Mountain View School Division (MVSD) will embark on a two-week remote learning experience.
In announcing the provincewide initiative last week, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen indicated an effort was being made to protect school environments from possible COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Current data indicates the risk of COVID-19 transmission in our schools remains low and we want to ensure the return to the classroom is as safe as practically possible,” said Goertzen.
“By moving our Grades 7 to 12 students to remote learning for the first two weeks of the new year . . . we are reducing the risk that may be posed as a result of a change in students’ close contacts during the winter break.”
Locally planning for the remote learning period is progressing well said MVSD superintendent/CEO Dan Ward, adding the provincial requirement will impact some schools more than others.
“Our high school students are attending in person learning in the classroom. At the DRCSS (Dauphin Regional Comprehensive Secondary School) it’s a blended approach, and our other five high schools we’ve been able to socially distance even with all kids attending. So, by and large, they’ve been attending every day,” Ward said, adding he has been meeting with school principals to go over the changes required.
“They’re certainly more impactful on our high schools, and for some of our sevens and eights, because all of those schools and students will be in remote learning for the two-week period after the break, right up until and including Friday, January 15, with an anticipated return on Monday, January 18.”
MVSD has been offering optional remote learning for students in Kindergarten to Grade 6 since the beginning of the school year and has an idea what the January effort will entail.
It has meant some staff has had to take on the role of providing remote learning and some classrooms have had to be reconfigured, he said.
“That’s been, obviously, not without disruption. But we’re trying to find ways to make sure that we’re managing teacher workload at the school level and meeting the needs of our remote learners,” Ward said.
In the case of high schools, Ward added, teachers will simply pivot from in-class instruction to remote learning.
“So in some ways it’s actually more straightforward than what we’re currently doing,” he said, adding teachers will use their experience during the suspension of classes this past spring to make the transition as easy as possible.
That earlier period of remote learning and the planning that has been going on since the beginning of the school year also means both staff and students will be more familiar with the software used for remote learning.
“We’ve been building on our platforms and so both staff and students are quite familiar with the platforms we’re using, in particular Microsoft Teams,” he said.
“Many of our teachers have already been providing instruction through teams, even for in-class learners. And if we still have students and even staff who are not completely familiar with the platform we do have some time to prepare prior to the Christmas break.”
While the same Jan. 4 to 18, 2021, remote learning period is being offered for Kindergarten to Grade 6 students, Ward does not expect many changes to what is already happening.
However, parents will be given an opportunity to change their status, he said.
“We’re anticipating that most children in K to 6 who are receiving remote learning will continue to do so, and the ones that are attending school will likely also continue to do so,” Ward said, adding that might change depending on the number of COVID-19 cases in the region and family circumstances.
“But school will be open for K to 6 families.”
Classrooms will also be open for any Grades 7 to 12 students with special needs that must be accommodated in the school setting.
And while Ward has confidence in the division’s remote learning process, connectivity issues are still a concern.
Printed materials will still be provided for students who cannot access connections through their homes and the division is exploring options around providing in-class options for those students under the special needs exemption.
“Certainly for students who are at risk, in particular in Grades 7 to 12 schools, we do have some discretion in terms of permitting those students to attend. And so we’re working, meeting both with our principals and with the Department of Education to see what specifically are the parameters,” Ward said.
“We certainly don’t want to breach any directives from government or public health orders, but we’re looking at what the parameters are in terms of reaching out to those families that might have a child who’s falling behind or a student who’s falling behind and would benefit from better connectivity.”
The two-week remote learning period for Grades 7 to 12 will keep close to half of the student population in Manitoba at home following the winter break.
The province made the decision based on evidence which suggests that older students have a higher incidence of contracting the virus, a larger number of close contacts and are more likely to transmit the virus to others as a result.