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Division designing back-to-school blueprint

August 21, 2020

Louis Riel administrators mapping out spaces for safety, considering moving students

By: Danielle Da Silva, Winnipeg Free Press reporter, originally posted on Thursday, Aug 20

Every property in the Louis Riel School Division has been measured and mapped in an effort to ensure students have the personal space they need to be safe when the bell rings next month.
Division Supt. Christian Michalik said schools are being reorganized — both at the classroom and population levels — to make certain each of the more than 15,000 students returning to class in September are able to maintain a distance of two metres from others while in class.

"It became very clear to us the golden standard we should be trying to achieve is two metres of physical distance... and to design learning from that first principle," Michalik said Thursday.
"We've reviewed all of our floor plans carefully... and then went to work."

Manitoba Education is requiring kindergarten to Grade 8 students to attend class full time; secondary students must be at school at least twice a week.

Public health guidelines call for putting students in cohorts and ensuring at least one metre of distance between them during class when a full two metres is not possible.

Michalik said the division is reconfiguring all of its available school spaces and taking a hard look at class lists to reduce numbers in order to achieve the two metres of distance.

In some cases, students across all grades may be relocated to buildings where there is more space available. Michalik said the shuffle will be kept to a minimum and affected families will be consulted.

"We're working to not displace populations of students if we can avoid it and if we have to... we're looking at schools in the same geography," he said. "Proximity matters, and who we decide to go there will also take into account where one lives."

As an example, the school administrator suggested "satellite schools" that would include multiple grades, teachers and support staff could be established in a wing of a neighbouring school.
Michalik said older, established neighbourhoods in the division tend to have schools with available space, while classrooms in new communities, such as Sage Creek, are at capacity.

He acknowledged that arriving at any decisions to shift students and staff will be challenging.

"We're asking a lot of everyone — staff, students, parents — but at the heart of it all is designing learning environments with safety and health top of mind first," he said.

Class sizes wouldn't be capped, he noted, adding administrators are working on applying the same principles to high schools.
The tack taken by LRSD differs from other metro school divisions, some of which don't have room to build in two metres of physical distance, particularly for younger students.

Lauren Hope, an organizer with Safe September MB, applauded the Louis Riel division's efforts. The group is petitioning the government for distance-learning options, small class sizes and two metres of distance between students, improved ventilation and additional staff support for Manitoba schools, among other demands.

"Chronic underfunding of our education system has left other divisions scrambling to provide the necessary accommodations for the safe return to school," Hope said. "Many divisions are struggling with antiquated ventilation systems and overcrowded classrooms."

Michalik said LRSD is planning to hire more teachers, education assistants and custodians to pull off its plan.

"That will be the next hurdle," he said.
danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca
 
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