Winnipeg schools return to some sense of normalcy, despite COVID-19 obstacles

School is back in session and some local school divisions are getting back to a sense of normalcy, their superintendents say.

Seven Oaks School Division’s Brian O’Leary said that after an unprecedented start to the school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, students and staff are starting to relax and slip into their routines.

“We actually had our first case in one of our schools and attendance was a bit down today, but public health has said that the risk is low, and things are moving back to normal,” said O’Leary.

“Our attendance has been around 90 per cent. We do have some kids who are going to be learning remotely — some parents are opting for homeschooling — but there’s lots of kids who are just thrilled to be back at school and teachers are happy to see the kids again.”

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O’Leary said the students seem to be almost universally adopting social distancing and mask-wearing while they’re in school, but there’s still a bit of work to be done as far as encouraging them to follow health protocols once the bell rings.

“Some of them are not following the advice around social distancing and mask-wearing once they get off the property,” he said.

“I think we still have work to do to educate kids as to the ‘why’ and the importance of the recommended health procedures.”

Seine River School Division superintendent Michael Borgfjord told 680 CJOB he’s had a similar experience in his division’s schools.

We probably had about 98-99 per cent mask compliance from the beginning,” he said — much higher than the schools had anticipated.

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Most of the surprises are the little things — the amount of hand sanitizer being used — and I think, like everything else, it’s pretty interesting to see some of the creativity from especially our specialty teachers, going to remote and virtual things in their classrooms.”

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Borgfjord said Seine River’s schools are working on updates to help facilitate the province’s health and safety measures during the pandemic.

We’re putting in water bottle filling stations… We’re in the process of replacing our fountains. Things like touchless taps, those are being installed,” he said.

“We’re looking at extra sinks in some of our schools, as hand sanitizer is hard, especially on young hands, and ventilation is always a concern.”

New government funding, announced Monday by Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen, means Manitoba school divisions will be able to access special Safe Schools funding to help deal with the unprecedented situation of starting the school year during the coronavirus pandemic.

It also means divisions can get some assistance when it comes to making health-related changes, as well as making sure more resources, including staff bodies, are available if need be.

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Both O’Leary and Borgfjord said they expect higher rates of absenteeism this school year from both students and staff, out of an abundance of caution and following provincial guidelines.

Transportation is always one of our biggest challenges,” said O’Leary.

“We have an ample supply of buses, but one of our biggest concerns will be absenteeism of bus drivers … and we’re working very actively to get more spare bus drivers under contract.

“The second concern is trying to respond to the needs of some of the people who aren’t able to bus and have extenuating circumstances.”

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Coronavirus: Manitoba education minister says public health will advise of infections in schools

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