Manitoba schools to shut down as of March 23 due to COVID-19: province

Manitoba students will not be going to school for three weeks, starting March 23.

A provincial government announcement March 13 has led to the cancellation of two regularly scheduled weeks of classes.

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The closure will include two regular weeks of school, along with spring break sandwiched in the middle. Schools will still remain open March 16-20.

The announcement was made by Minister of Education Kelvin Goertzen at a news conference March 13.

Goertzen was joined by Premier Brian Pallister, Minister of Health Cameron Friesen and Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

"What we're having to do is choose between reaction or proaction," Pallister said.

"We can err on the side of caution or err on the side of delay. After discussions, we've decided to err on the side of caution."

Pallister said he had spoken to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier in the day. The provincial move follows an announcement from Ontario that the province will be closing schools due to COVID-19 concerns.

"My confidence [is bolstered] that as a nation, we are dealing with the issue and in an open in a proactive way," he said.

"Here in Manitoba, I am very thankful for the work of our personnel in our health care facilities and elsewhere and our government officials for their work as well."

Teachers will be asked to work their normal hours and prepare lessons for students to complete at home.

Pallister compared the situation to provincial action another typical act of nature – flooding.

"We live in a floodplain and we all know there's water coming down the Red River in the spring, there's water coming down the Assiniboine," he said.

"All of us know that there's a COVID-19 virus coming our way. We all know that. The question isn't whether it's coming or not. The question is, is it all coming at the same time."

Goertzen said he hoped the school year will end at the normal time. Goertzen immediately left the conference to attend the Manitoba School Boards Association (MSBA) annual convention and meet with school division superintendents from across the province, including Tammy Ballantyne of the Flin Flon School Division.

Pallister said the pending school closures will be done out of an abundance of caution.

"We believe that our schools are safe, however, the experience in other provinces and other parts of the world tells us that proactive measures lessen the impact of the spread of COVID-19 and lessens the negative impact on individuals," he said.

"Through this suspension, we're acting with an abundance of caution to lessen the effects of COVID-19 on Manitoba and Manitobans as a whole."

When asked if parents could take their children out of school earlier, Goertzen said he believes schools are safe and the closure was decided on due to an abundance of caution, but it would be up to parents to decide whether to send their kids to class.

“I'm a parent myself and if my son has a runny nose or is not feeling well, I choose to make sure he's not going to school,” he said.
 
The province expects students to return to normal classes April 13, but officials did not rule out extending the closure.

Locally, the Flin Flon School Division (FFSD) will move based on provincial recommendations.

"The Flin Flon School Division is following the directive of the Minister of Education and chief medical officer," said FFSD board chair Murray Skeavington.

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