MONTREAL (CITYNEWS) – Some Montreal teachers fear going back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic could ultimately do a disservice to their students, who have been out of school since March.
The teachers feel much of their time will be spent ensuring students are practising social distancing and handwashing, rather than teaching. They are demanding an extra week to prepare for back-to-school.
The Quebec government is requiring students in Grade 5 and beyond – as well as school staff – to wear masks in common areas when they return to school in the coming weeks.
“(Tell) a 4-year-old who is on the spectrum to keep their mask on for two hours,” said elementary school teacher Cheryl Villeneuve. “And they won’t. They’ll take it off to eat. And they’ll drop it on the floor. And then we’ll have to give them another one.
“And then they’ll go to the bathroom and they’ll take it off ‘cause they’re upset and they’ll throw it out. And then we’ll have to give them another one.”
That’s just one of many concerns expressed by teachers in the days leading up to the province-mandated back-to-school plan.
Villeneuve also worries that enforced bubbles will be hard to maintain due to teacher shortages.
“We have to remember, even before this pandemic, we were in dire situations,” said Villeneuve. “We were low on substitute teachers. When I had to take a day off as a parent sometimes, my students had to be divided up into other rooms. So nothing’s changed. And if anything, it’s gotten worse.
“And now, will substitute teachers want to come in the building? And then, we are not allowed to divide them up in other groups, so who will take over my course?”
There are also concerns about proper ventilation, which is important for limiting the spread of the virus. Villeneuve says that’s not being prioritized by the government.
“Once the windows close during the winter months, we (need) proper ventilation like they are doing in all the hospitals to make sure we are breathing clean air,” she said.
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Ismael Seck is a special education teacher in Montreal’s Parc-Extension, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada.
Seck feels the problems related to teaching during a pandemic will only be exacerbated in low-income neighbourhoods.
“For example in my class, I know that some students won’t necessarily have a pen or eraser, so there will be more sharing,” said Seck. “There are more opportunities for the virus to spread.”
Seck also worries the government is taking basic amenities like soap and sanitizer for granted.
“I think it should be free – the basic need just to be able to wash their hands,” he said. “We took for granted that all children should have internet in 2020 and they did not, and I don’t think we should take masks or soap for granted, especially in a poor neighbourhood.”
Many of these concerns are also being shared across the country. Over the week parents and teachers in Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia have voiced their concerns and complaints regarding provincial plans on retuning to school.
In Alberta, the Teachers’ Association has been calling on the Education Minister to sit down and resume talks on safety within schools, which ended suddenly.
In B.C., parents are voicing concerns about their children’s mental health as back-to-school dates are right around the corner.
Many of the concerns come as Canada’s Health Minister Dr. Theresa Tam warns Canadians about a likely second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the fall.