The short answer? No.
Most Ontario teachers say they want to be back in the classroom this fall, but only if local school boards and the province meet several important criteria. One teacher admitted to being baffled by “how you can teach, discipline and assist without violating social distance regulations. It is simply impossible to do.”
When the province announced in late July that all publicly funded schools were to offer full-day, five-day-a-week school this fall, with pre-COVID class sizes, it caught many teachers off guard and caused a social media backlash seldom seen in the educational community.
One long-time elementary teacher expressed disgust for the Hospital for Sick Children report the province used as a basis for its focus on in-person learning for the fall. (All classroom teachers quoted in this article asked for anonymity in exchange for sharing their candid opinions.) “I am sure they are fine doctors (at Sick Kids) but they haven’t been in a classroom since the days of the one-room school house. I think they are expecting me to stand at the front of the class sheathed in Plexiglas and deliver my lesson. They are so clueless about what real teaching is.”
Online, in meetings and in private, many teachers are voicing similar frustrations about the reopening of schools this fall.
“Our prime concern is the health and safety of our workers, and along with them, students,” said Colin Matthew in an e-mail. His union represents secondary teachers in Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
“We will be focused primarily on infection control.”This may mean some combination of masking along with physical distancing which can be incredibly difficult in a high school environment and on the buses,” Matthew added.
His counterpart with the elementary teachers’ union, Karen Bratina, agreed. “Regardless of the model (for instruction) emergency funding must be provided by the Ford government to ensure a safe and effective reopening of schools for all stakeholders,” she said.
“Boards will require additional staff to ensure smaller class sizes for social distancing requirements,” Bratina added, “and sufficient personal protective equipment must be provided along with additional hand-washing facilities throughout the school.”
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association represents staff in the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland Clarington Catholic District School Board (PVNCCDSB). It issued a strongly worded statement on August 10 that read, in part, “The safe care of our children is a fundamental social compact. Society and economies are built around child care. Parents want to send their kids back to school, but only if it is safe.”
“Older teachers instructing high school students every day and in classes of 25 to 30 are very concerned about catching COVID,” one veteran teacher said.
“We now know teens carry and spread the disease at the same or higher rates than other adults, and that scares me.”