Education Minister Goertzen Comments on School Re-opening Concerns

Education Minister Goertzen Comments on School Re-opening Concerns

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen joined the televised COVID-19 update by the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brent Roussin on July 30 to announce the resumption of classroom learning on September 8. The news conference was followed by a Q&A with local media, which flushed out more details such us why wearing respiratory masks are not mandatory yet, and why there is no reduction in class sizes, among other things.

A week after the announcement, Minister Goertzen accepted the invitation to be a guest on the August 6 episode of the Barangay Canada vodcast. As a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), the Minister happens to represent the provincial riding of Steinbach, and this writer is among his constituents The Minister has represented the riding since 2003 and is on his fifth term after being re-elected last year.

In the course of the discussion, Goertzen emphasized that the Ministry came up with the plan and framework for resuming classroom learning by working closely with various stakeholders such as the Manitoba Teachers Society, Manitoba Association of School Boards, and the Manitoba Federation of Independent Schools, to name a few. As well, the Minister cited the survey conducted in June for parents, teachers and students wherein, “Overwhelmingly parents said they wanted their students to go back to school, but they also said they wanted it to be done safely,” Goertzen said.

It was pointed out that safety measures such as physical distancing, hand-washing and staggered recesses and breaks were anticipated measures as they are consistent with the general guidelines. However, it was rather unexpected that the wearing of respiratory masks is not mandatory when Manitoba schools re-open, in stark contrast to Ontario’s back-to-school plan to require the wearing of masks. Minister Goertzen explained that, “The recommendation on masks around the world continues to evolve, and right now Public Health in Manitoba is not recommending the mandatory use of masks either in schools or indoor public places. But that may change as the evidence in Manitoba changes.”

Minister Goertzen did confirm that parents and students can choose to wear respiratory masks. “Follow the public health advice, but in addition to that, take the precaution that you think are right for you and your family.” The Minister added, “Nobody should be commenting negatively upon that. That is their individual choice to do that on behalf of their family.”

Asked about whether or not playground time will be allowed for K-4 because of the challenge of maintaining physical distancing, Minister Goertzen replied, “Individual schools might choose to keep the number of kids on a play structure at a reduced amount or not mix up the classes, try to keep them with their cohorts, but the advice and the evidence is that outdoor playing on a playground is a relatively low-risk interaction.”

For his parting message to his constituents and other Manitobans, Minister Goertzen expressed hope that, “The only way to get through difficult situations like this is to focus not too much on the long term, but more day to day, to be optimistic about your own situation but then also to encourage others.” He continued, “The more that we could be calm in this situation, follow the public health advice, be optimistic individually and encourage others, no matter how long this takes to get through, individually we may actually come out better as people on the other side than we were going into this.”

Kris Ontong is the co-Founder of the Barangay Canada media project and is a finalist in the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards for 2020.