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Gray Academy pivots once again to “Gray Away” during provincially mandated week of remote learning

Gray Academy logo websiteBy BERNIE BELLAN With the decision by the provincial government to require online learning in all classrooms for students from K-12 from January 10-14, Gray Academy was well positioned to implement what it began to refer to as “Gray Away” when it was first introduced in May 2020. As well, the school has also taken steps to provide all parents of students in JK-6 with test kits that the parents are being asked to administer every three days beginning January 16.

‘“Gray Away” was reintroduced this past week, from kindergarten to Grade 12,” Lori Binder, Head of School at Gray Academy, said during a phone interview.

“Our junior kindergarten students have been able to remain on site,” Lori added, “since JK falls under early learning child care.”

As well, similar to all other schools in the province, Lori noted that “we are supporting children of critical service workers or those students who need supports. We’ve had about 80 kids in the building even during Gray Away. Most of those kids have been K-6, along with junior kindergarten – and just a sprinkling in the high school.”

“All teachers have been on site, so remote learning was taught from the school…Even though we were made aware [remote learning] was a possibility, before vacation was over, staff got together in a Zoom meeting to be prepared for the transition.”

As well, Lori added, “prior to break we sent stuff home with kids because Omicron was spreading – so at least we were able to prepare most of our students to have their belongings they needed for learning.”

Something else that the school will be able to give students is rapid test kits for all students (including those in JK) up to Grade 6. Lori noted that the province had supplied the school with sufficient quantities (five tests per student) of rapid test kits for all students in K-6 to be tested every three days. With school set to resume in person on January 17, parents are to pick up the test kits on Sunday, January 16.

As well, Lori noted, “We were given a supply of tests from BB Camp” that had been left over following the summer session of that camp. Those tests were given to parents and have been used for students in Junior Kindergarten, so that they, could also be tested every three days. The test kits were also made available for Critical Care Workers whose children were in school the week of January 10-14 for in person learning.

Parents of all students in JK-6 are being asked to administer tests to their children prior to the resumption of in person learning as an additional layer to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID upon their return. With five rapid tests for each student to take every three days, this will help for the first two weeks back after the long break from in person learning.

As far as test kits for kids in 7-12 are concerned, Lori said the province did not provide schools with kits to send home as high school-aged students are eligible to be vaccinated. At Gray Academy, students aged 12 and up are all fully vaccinated. (Still, in light of the Omicron variant infecting fully vaccinated individuals, I wonder whether the province might now be giving consideration to giving students who may have received two vaccines test kits as welll? Anyone under 18 is not eligible for a booster shot in Canada, although they could be in the U.S.)

I asked Lori when was the last time Gray Academy had been forced to implement remote learning?

“It was May and June of 2021,” she answered.

When Gray Academy first introduced “Gray Away” in March 2020, however, it was for all students, including Junior Kindergarten. Since then, there’s been the clear realization that “learning remotely is not effective for three and four-year-olds,” Lori explained.

As it was when remote learning was first introduced almost two years ago, classes are structured similar to how they would be in person, with breaks structured into schedules. “In elementary it’s tweaked just a little bit so that there’s more time to move around between classes,” Lori added.

I wondered, when school began in the fall, whether Gray Academy was still maintaining the strict protocols that had been in force all last school year, i.e., social distancing, students remaining in cohorts, no movement of students between classrooms (with teachers moving instead from class to class)?

Lori said that Gray Academy had been adhering to stricter rules than were nominally dictated by the province. When school began in the fall, she explained, “schools were in ‘Yellow’; we were operating a little closer to ‘Orange. For example, our staff were in medical grade masks since September. Our students in elementary have been cohorted and had two metres between their desks.

“In high school this year, because all students were fully vaccinated (which, we noted back in September, made Gray Academy one of only two high schools which required that all students be vaccinated, the other being the University of Winnipeg Collegiate) – in late November it was the first time students began to move around the school again. That was an amazing, refreshing thing for our high school students – being able to move from class to class. For instance, they were actually able to take biology in the biology lab, rather than the biology teacher coming to them.”

It was around the same time that “the library reopened for the first time, singing started again – with masks on. That was before Omicron landed in Manitoba.”

I wondered whether there had been any cases of COVID in Gray Academy since the pandemic took hold here back in March 2020?

“From March 2020 to December 22, 2021, we had one case,” Lori answered.

“Then the school closed on December 22 for winter break; that’s when Omicron was sort of bubbling, and Friday, December 24 we started to receive reports of cases among individuals who had been at school. Even though we were on break we wanted to follow the protocols and communicate with our families. We reported to the (appropriate) grade and to the school that there was a positive case. Between December 22 and 10 days following, we reported on 15 cases after school closed which, in light of Omicron, is not surprising.”

“There was no indication of spread among those cases. They were sprinkled here and there, mostly in elementary, which again is not surprising, since our high school students and all staff are fully vaccinated.”

“Our goal was to keep our school community healthy by informing families of any potential exposure.”

I wanted to once again remind readers what the overall consequence was of requiring that all students aged 12 and up be vaccinated prior to the start of the school year in September, so I asked Lori whether there had been any further developments insofar as parents pulling their children from the school because they didn’t want to have them vaccinated.

Lori responded that the figures she reported to me back in September had remained the same: A total of only 11 families with 20 children who had been enrolled in Gray Academy last school year had withdrawn their children from the school as a result of the vaccination requirement.

Further, Lori reported that there had been complete compliance among staff with regard to getting vaccinated.

Given the uncertainty about students returning to in school education, I suggested to Lori that the most she and her staff can do is plan five days at a time.

“That’s right,” she said. “Five days at a time.”

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Free Press coming under criticism for supposed “anti-Israel” bias

Free Press opinion columnist Jen Zoratti and Free Press faith writer John Longhurst

By BERNIE BELLAN

“The attack on Oct. 7, it was vicious (and) really brutal. But it happened in a certain context of this region of years and years of dehumanizing people from both sides.

Do you know who said that? Not a Free Press columnist. It was Yonatan Zeigen – one of former Winnipegger Vivian Silver’s two sons. Zeigen was quoted in an October 29 Canadian Press article – prior to the discovery that his mother had actually been killed on Kibbutz Be’eri during the October 7 massacre, and was not taken hostage to Gaza – which is what was first suspected.

That same story also said that Zeigen “noted that his perspective has prompted backlash inside Israel, which he chalks up to people rejecting projects his mother helped run that call for a fundamental shift in how Israelis relate to Palestinians.

” ‘I don’t really talk … to the Israeli press because I see a lot of poison being directed at her because of her activities,’ he said.”

Compare that with what Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti wrote in an opinion piece that was published January 26, two days after an event focusing on the brutality that had been inflicted on Israeli (and other non-Israeli women) during the Hamas massacre of October 7: “Everyone who took the mic on Wednesday kept saying, ‘all women matter’ and ‘women everywhere matter,’ but I couldn’t help but wonder — which women? There wasn’t even a cursory pass at solidarity or even an acknowledgment of the gender- based harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women, who also feel abandoned by global feminism.”

Zoratti’s column did describe the horrors that had been unleashed on Israeli women on October 7 and she did refer in some depth to remarks made by Israeli lawyer and women’s rights expert Ayelet Razin Bet Or during that January 24 event at the Human Rights Museum, but she tried to place what happened on October 7 within a larger context of the ongoing degradation of women in war situations.

That one single comment in Zoratti’s column about “harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women” has apparently unleashed a torrent of criticism, which has been leveled not only at Zoratti and the Free Press for having the nerve to print her column, the backlash has even extended to Free Press Faith reporter John Longhurst, who has been caught up totally unsuspectingly in a blistering attack written by the publisher of a Jewish Winnipeg website.

Apparently Longhurst had written just two words on “X” (previously Twitter), with reference to Zoratti’s column: “good column.”

In response, Rhonda Spivak, publisher of Winnipeg Jewish Review, wrote:

“Did he not understand that in raving (emphasis ours) about Zoratti’s column that painted a picture of Israel as an apartheid state, accusing the Israeli speaker of spouting propaganda (emphasis ours), and calling for a ceasefire without even mentioning the necessary release of Israeli women, children and men held hostage in Gaza, he would not be bridge building but damaging his relationship with the Jewish community.

With his little tweet, Longhurst has set back interfaith relations .What makes things worse, is that Longhurst actually interviewed the Israeli speaker, sex crimes prosecutor Ayelet Razin Bet Or and the program’s moderator Gail Asper for the Winnipeg Free Press and also for the Canadian Jewish News in advance of the program held at the CMHR. If Longhurst harbored these views, would it not have been fair to present his views, and give Razin Bet Or the opportunity to respond?

 “Longhurst is a freelance writer who writes regularly in the Canadian Jewish News, but I do wonder what the latter’s readership would think of his insensitivity displayed towards the Jewish/Zionist community (emphasis ours).


”How does Longhurst propose to repair that which he has damaged (emphasis ours)?”

In defense of Longhurst, it should be pointed out that he written extensively about the local Jewish community. He was also the only local reporter to attend the major conference on anti-Semitism held in Ottawa in October. He also interviewed both Ayelet Razin Bet Or and Gail Asper for a story that was published prior to the event at the Human Rights Museum on January 24.

However, reaction to Zoratti’s column has been heated and calls have grown on social media to organize campaigns against the Free Press. We have been made aware of pressure being exerted on Free Press co-owner Bob Silver to influence the editorial position of the paper. We have also been told (although admittedly anecdotally, without being able to verify to what extent it has happened) of individuals cancelling (or threatening to cancel) their subscriptions to the Free Press.

But, it’s not only Zoratti’s column that has raised the ire of many individuals toward the Free Press. As with any large daily newspaper, the Free Press receives many letters to the editor. In recent weeks the paper has printed letters from Jeff Lieberman (CEO of the Jewish Federation) and Paula Parks (President of the Federation), along with an opinion piece by Gustavo Zentner (the newly appointed CIJA representative for Manitoba and Saskatchewan), all of which made the case for Israel in various respects.

Yet, the Free Press has also printed many letters highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. On Tuesday, February 6, while there was one letter written in defense of Israel, there were also three letters highly critical of Israel. We have been contacted by individuals complaining that their own letters written in defense of Israel have not been printed.

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Local News

Free Press coming under criticism for supposed “anti-Israel” bias

Free Press opinion columnist Jen Zoratti and Free Press faith writer John Longhurst

By BERNIE BELLAN “The attack on Oct. 7, it was vicious (and) really brutal. But it happened in a certain context of this region of years and years of dehumanizing people from both sides.”

Do you know who said that? Not a Free Press columnist. It was Yonatan Zeigen – one of former Winnipegger Vivian Silver’s two sons. Zeigen was quoted in an October 29 Canadian Press article – prior to the discovery that his mother had actually been killed on Kibbutz Be’eri during the October 7 massacre, and was not taken hostage to Gaza – which is what was first suspected.

That same story also said that Zeigen “noted that his perspective has prompted backlash inside Israel, which he chalks up to people rejecting projects his mother helped run that call for a fundamental shift in how Israelis relate to Palestinians.

” ‘I don’t really talk … to the Israeli press because I see a lot of poison being directed at her because of her activities,’ he said.”

Compare that with what Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti wrote in an opinion piece that was published January 26, two days after an event focusing on the brutality that had been inflicted on Israeli (and other non-Israeli women) during the Hamas massacre of October 7: “Everyone who took the mic on Wednesday kept saying, ‘all women matter’ and ‘women everywhere matter,’ but I couldn’t help but wonder — which women? There wasn’t even a cursory pass at solidarity or even an acknowledgment of the gender- based harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women, who also feel abandoned by global feminism.”

Zoratti’s column did describe the horrors that had been unleashed on Israeli women on October 7 and she did refer in some depth to remarks made by Israeli lawyer and women’s rights expert Ayelet Razin Bet Or during that January 24 event at the Human Rights Museum, but she tried to place what happened on October 7 within a larger context of the ongoing degradation of women in war situations.

That one single comment in Zoratti’s column about “harms currently being experienced by Palestinian women” has apparently unleashed a torrent of criticism, which has been leveled not only at Zoratti and the Free Press for having the nerve to print her column, the backlash has even extended to Free Press Faith reporter John Longhurst, who has been caught up totally unsuspectingly in a blistering attack written by the publisher of a Jewish Winnipeg website.

Apparently Longhurst had written just two words on “X” (previously Twitter), with reference to Zoratti’s column: “good column.”

In response, Rhonda Spivak, publisher of Winnipeg Jewish Review, wrote:

“Did he not understand that in raving (emphasis ours) about Zoratti’s column that painted a picture of Israel as an apartheid state, accusing the Israeli speaker of spouting propaganda (emphasis ours), and calling for a ceasefire without even mentioning the necessary release of Israeli women, children and men held hostage in Gaza, he would not be bridge building but damaging his relationship with the Jewish community.

With his little tweet, Longhurst has set back interfaith relations .What makes things worse, is that Longhurst actually interviewed the Israeli speaker, sex crimes prosecutor Ayelet Razin Bet Or and the program’s moderator Gail Asper for the Winnipeg Free Press and also for the Canadian Jewish News in advance of the program held at the CMHR. If Longhurst harbored these views, would it not have been fair to present his views, and give Razin Bet Or the opportunity to respond?

 “Longhurst is a freelance writer who writes regularly in the Canadian Jewish News, but I do wonder what the latter’s readership would think of his insensitivity displayed towards the Jewish/Zionist community (emphasis ours).


”How does Longhurst propose to repair that which he has damaged (emphasis ours)?”

In defense of Longhurst, it should be pointed out that he written extensively about the local Jewish community. He was also the only local reporter to attend the major conference on anti-Semitism held in Ottawa in October. He also interviewed both Ayelet Razin Bet Or and Gail Asper for a story that was published prior to the event at the Human Rights Museum on January 24.

However, reaction to Zoratti’s column has been heated and calls have grown on social media to organize campaigns against the Free Press. We have been made aware of pressure being exerted on Free Press co-owner Bob Silver to influence the editorial position of the paper. We have also been told (although admittedly anecdotally, without being able to verify to what extent it has happened) of individuals cancelling (or threatening to cancel) their subscriptions to the Free Press.

But, it’s not only Zoratti’s column that has raised the ire of many individuals toward the Free Press. As with any large daily newspaper, the Free Press receives many letters to the editor. In recent weeks the paper has printed letters from Jeff Lieberman (CEO of the Jewish Federation) and Paula Parks (President of the Federation), along with an opinion piece by Gustavo Zentner (the newly appointed CIJA representative for Manitoba and Saskatchewan), all of which made the case for Israel in various respects.

Yet, the Free Press has also printed many letters highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. On Tuesday, February 6, while there was one letter written in defense of Israel, there were also three letters highly critical of Israel. We have been contacted by individuals complaining that their own letters written in defense of Israel have not been printed.

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In defense of the Jen Zoratti column that set off a firestorm of criticism of the Free Press – and a letter explaining why that column so upset so many people

By BERNIE BELLAN As an editor myself I know what it’s like to be accused of bias. As such, I would argue that the anger at the Winnipeg Free Press for what many in our community perceive as an anti-Israel bias is totally unjustified. If any of the paper’s critics actually takes a close look at that paper they will see a vast amount of coverage devoted to local Jewish events. Not only does John Longhurst do a great job covering many events (and he is a far better reporter than I could ever hope to be), the paper also features Sharon Chisvin writing about local Jewish happenings on a regular basis.

One would think that, based on the amount of ink that the Free Press devotes to news of interest specifically to the Jewish community that there was a vast number of Jews in this city. That’s why, when I asked Free Press editor Paul Samyn, when he was speaking to the Remis group at the Gwen Secter Centre last year, just how many Jews he thought there were in Winnipeg, and he guessed “45,000,” he was quite astounded to hear from me that, at best, there were only 12,500 Jews in Winnipeg. (I also said to Paul that there were over 72,000 Filipinos in Winnipeg, but you don’t see nearly as many stories about that community in the paper as you do of the Jewish community.)

So, Jen Zoratti wrote a column that had one particular paragraph that inflamed the minds of many Jews (a lot of whom don’t even read the Free Press, based on what I’ve seen on social media). Not only are many individuals furious at Zoratti – and the Free Press, for even daring to publish what she wrote, even as fair minded and professional a writer as John Longhurst has had his name dragged through the mud. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about read https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/free-press-coming-under-criticism-for-supposed-anti-israel-bias/

For a community that’s long railed against the idea of boycotts being used against Israel (as in the BDS movement – Boycott, Divest, Sanctions), isn’t it a bit much to be calling for individuals to cancel their subscriptions to the Free Press over one column? And as someone who, until this week, had been a newspaper publisher for almost 40 years, I know what it’s like to have pressure put on your to slant coverage in a newspaper. While some newspaper publishers like to get involved in dictating editorial policy, from what I know Bob Silver has been steadfast in remaining apart from that. I personally sent notes offering encouragement to Jen Zoratti, John Longhurst, and Paul Samyn. I didn’t weigh in on whether I thought what Jen wrote was out of line or not (which, by the way, I didn’t). I simply wanted to affirm the importance of freedom of the press –and of columnists, to write without fear of monetary retribution. Heck, Israel has been on the receiving end of that kind of campaign for years. Are Jews going to begin to emulate the tactics of the BDS movement?

In response to the above we received a letter from Cathy Moser, in which she explains the anger that many in the Jewish community are feeling toward the Free Press:

Dear Bernie;

     I respect your humane approach to reporting on the war in the Middle East – I don’t think that you will find too many people in the Winnipeg Jewish community that would revel in knowing that thousands of innocent women and children in Gaza were killed in the effort to eliminate Hamas Terrorists.  If Jen Zoratti had written a column on the Palestinian women and children whose voices have been deadened – what she said may have been relevant.  However – she wrote an OpEd on a talk called HEAR OUR VOICES, with the Voices referring to the women and children who were raped, tortured and killed in Israel on October 7th.  It was as inappropriate to talk about the Gazan women in this article as it would have been to talk about the Israeli women and children if she was reviewing a talk given by the Palestinian community on Palestinian women and children.  Or if, when newspapers in the 40’s described bombing Nazi headquarters and strongholds, had included in their OpEds the fact that thousands of innocent German civilians were killed by the Allied Forces and they are inhumane.

     The problem with Jen Zoratti’s article was well summarized by Mike Federer in his article in the Free Press, January 7th, 2024 – it takes a very special skill to attend an educational event bringing attention to Hamas’ misogynistic and murderous sexual assault of Israeli women during its genocidal October 7 massacre in southern Israel, and turn it into an anti-Israel hit piece. However, that’s exactly what Jen Zoratti managed to accomplish in her January 26 opinion column in the Winnipeg Free Press entitled: “The battlefield between feminism and rapes of war.”.

     By the way, there would have been no need to appeal to Bob Silver had the Editor published any one of my letters providing an alternate understanding of some of the issues.  Prior to the deluge that was received after the Jen Zoratti article, the Winnipeg Free Press had very one-sidedly published letters to the Editor that were anti-Israel and misleading in facts. I will send a few for your perusal if you are interested.  Since the Zoratti ‘affair’, there have been many more letters published that elucidate both sides of the story, as well as articles to the point (e.g., Saturday, Feb 18, 2025 article by Dr. Ruth Ashrafi).

     It seems that the volume of letters to the Editor and Owner after the Zoratti article has served its purpose. Perhaps there was a critical look at the past month’s content to determine whether the letter writers’ claims were valid. Freedom of speech is critical to a healthy democracy; however, if those that publish the speeches are biased, there is no freedom. 

Sincerely,

Cathy Moser 

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