Treaty 1 Territory, Winnipeg, MB - Manitoba Liberals are backing the calls of Safe September Manitoba, a coalition of concerned parents, teachers and educators who have given the Pallister PCs back-to-school plans a failing grade.
At the top of the list is making sure students can get public education at home and ensuring the $85.4-million federal funding earmarked for safe reopening is actually invested in schools.
The funds could be used to enhance remote learning, ventilation, safety upgrades, and ensure substitute teachers and staff are available.
Manitoba Liberal Leader and MLA for St. Boniface, Dougald Lamont, said remote learning is the "ultimate in social distancing." It would allow for smaller class sizes, and staff and students with immune challenges would all be able to work and learn safely.
While other provinces, including BC, Saskatchewan and Ontario are all providing a public option for remote learning - the Pallister PCs aren't.
Instead, parents in Manitoba who are concerned about sending their children back to school have no option but to take them out of the public system and homeschool them instead.
"The PCs aren't willing to commit federal funds to safe school reopening, they're not willing to provide the safest option of remote learning. Instead, they are forcing parents with real health and safety concerns to pull their children out of the public system," said Lamont. "Parents should register their children with schools and the province needs to step up with virtual schools and remote learning."
Parents should know that if they choose to homeschool, they will be on the hook for all the costs. An e-mail from the Winnipeg School Division to parents reads, "when parents choose to homeschool their child, they are responsible for obtaining resources and materials for the program of study. Provincial funding is not available to families who homeschool."
A further concern is that the PCs will deliver massive cuts to next year's education budget based on this year's numbers. Current policy is that the funding for the next school year is based on this year's enrolment. That could mean deep cuts next year.
Lamont said there have been warning signs about the Pallister PCs dismantling public education. Earlier this year, Minister of Education Kelvin Goertzen urged a global homeschooling conference comprised of far-right politicians and policymakers to use the pandemic crisis as an opportunity to push their views, saying, "maybe it [education] shouldn't even be primarily a state activity."
"We need more forms of alternative learning. Right now, the only option for parents that don't feel safe sending their children to school is homeschooling, which isn't an option for the majority of parents due to a variety of reasons including work," said Cindy Lamoureux, Manitoba Liberal Education Critic and MLA for Tyndall Park. "We must ensure safety and comfort for children and their families."
Manitoba Liberals are calling on the PCs to support the Safe September Manitoba Plan:
- Allow school boards delay the return of school until plans are in place
- Ensure publicly funded remote learning is available so students who wish to can learn and staff can teach remotely
- Ensure class sizes are small enough to support social distancing
- Require mandatory masks with reasonable exemptions
- Assess and upgrade ventilation systems
- Paid sick leave for employees who are sick or self-isolating from Covid-19
- More supply and substitute teachers to ensure classes are covered