By Steve Lambert and Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Some Manitoba students walked out of classes Monday, the first day back after an extended holiday break, to protest what they said was an unsafe environment as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.
“Many of them want to be in schools. They want to be in schools, but they want to feel safe,” Piper Lockhart, 16, said about her fellow students.
“Teachers aren’t getting the proper resources to have safe classrooms.”
Lockhart was one of the organizers of the demonstration that was scheduled for dozens of schools across the province. She was one of half a dozen students who left College Louis Riel while most stayed in class.
Amelie Tetrault, 15, is in Grade 10 at the school and joined the walkout. She said she didn’t feel safe in class despite efforts by students and teachers. She and others want enhanced safety measures in classrooms, better access to masks and a choice to learn online.
“I would like to have an option,” she said.
Manitoba students were given an extended winter break, including one week of remote learning, to allow schools to add to pandemic prevention measures. The province has promised more masks and rapid tests and has asked schools to create more space so that students can stay distanced from each other.
The Winnipeg School Division said it was still waiting for some of the promised supplies.
“We don’t have everything in hand yet. We would like to see that,” said Jamie Dumont, vice-chair of the division’s board of trustees.
Schools did use the extended break to remove some classroom furniture and to repurpose other rooms to give students more space, Dumont added.
“I do believe that we are doing everything we can, given the resources we’re given to do it.”
Health officials on Monday announced another record number of people in hospital with COVID-19 — 601. There were 20 COVID-related deaths over the three-day period ending Monday.
Patients in intensive care, including non-COVID cases, continued to rise to 107. The province’s normal capacity before the pandemic was 72. Last spring, it had to ship dozens of patients to other provinces to free up beds.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon expressed confidence last week that Manitoba would not have to ship patients elsewhere in the coming weeks, even as deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Jazz Atwal, said he expected hospitalizations to continue to rise.