he Manitoba NDP released a statement Jan. 10 calling on the PC government to adopt “measures to make schools safer and ease the burden of at-home learning” on families, and proposed five solutions the provincial government could implement to help families manage the delay to in-person learning.
The party proposes the government dedicate a benefit to help parents cover the costs of learning from home, provide more rapid tests and high-quality masks to teachers and students, increase investments to upgrade school facilities such as ventilation systems in classrooms, publicly release infection data to parents so that they could assess the risk for their children and invest in sick-pay coverage, mental health counsellors and substitute teachers to help deal with staffing shortages.
Provincial NDP leader Wab Kinew noted that although many are eager for students to return to in-person learning, it needs to be done safely.
“We all want to see kids back in the classroom, but it has to be safe,” said Kinew in a press release.
“Government should be focused on doing whatever is possible to help kids succeed at home and at school, but the [PCs] are putting their political fortunes ahead of Manitoba families.”
In response to the NDP’s statement, Education Minister and PC MLA Cliff Cullen said the provincial government is continuing to invest in schools to ensure that students can safely return to in-person learning on Jan. 17, 2022.
Cullen said the provincial government has invested over $63 million to ensure that classrooms will be safe for students to return to.
In response to the NDP’s proposal for a benefit to fund learning from home, Cullen replied that, “[s]ince early in the pandemic, school divisions have been able to access the safe schools fund to ensure all students have access to technology where needed.”
Cullen said 500,000 rapid tests have already been provided for all students in kindergarten to Grade 6.
In addition to these rapid tests, Cullen said the provincial government continues to provide schools with PPE. Teachers and staff are required to wear medical masks, while well-fitting face masks with three layers are recommended for students.
According to Cullen, a $6.8 million school ventilation fund has been established in addition to $45 million allocated to schools for expenditures related to COVID-19.
Meanwhile, students and staff are eligible for confirmatory PCR testing and confirmed cases will continue to be posted on the Government of Manitoba’s COVID-19 dashboard. Finally, Cullen said $30 million of safe schools funds have been distributed by school divisions to address impacts to learning, mental health and well-being. This includes hiring additional teachers, educational assistants and clinicians.
An additional $1 million has been reserved to fund additional mental health supports.