The Back To School Challenge
1st Day of School at Hunters Glen Jr. p.s. on Tuesday Sept. 15th a week later than usual. The kids already have it down. From friends in the school yard keeping their distance to having your own supply of hand sanitizer with you all the time.
By Heather Hunter
As you may be aware, large numbers of people in an enclosed space may create the perfect conditions for aerosol transmission of the Coronavirus. For the sake of physical distancing and lowering the risk of transmission, some teachers and parents are rallying for smaller class sizes.
On August 27th, Premier Doug Ford said at a press conference that “it is time teachers step up… everyone else has sacrificed.” On September 3rd, he commented that “everyone has stepped up in situations that were 1000 times worse.” Some interpret these statements as an accusation against Teachers for being idle. In truth, teachers have been painstakingly inventing new techniques for virtual learning and communicating daily with their pupils. When finally allowed into the schools, teachers began rearranging furniture and sorting through materials to produce sanitary individual learning kits. Teachers are creative, dedicated people who are stepping up – but being knocked down by higher-ups may worsen the situation.
Teachers from different areas of the country engaged in online think-tanks to find pragmatic solutions to issues posed by COVID-19. Topics ranged from mitigating the psychological effects on young children of meeting their teachers in masks and visors to how to socially distance from students without constantly admonishing them for wanting to socialize.
In September, Ontario teachers participated in a 3 day in-service which reiterated the importance of hand hygiene, masks, and physical distancing. The education minister David Leche – a career politician who graduated from University of Western Ontario with a degree in Political Science – consulted with health experts on new education policies. Leche stated in the heat of August that “education is to be done outside as weather permits”. As many parents may easily picture, bugs, passing cars, a lack of comfortable seating, and animals could all pose as a distraction to a child. The government has not consulted with frontline educators, who were asked only to submit back-to-school stories online anonymously. As a result, some felt that educators’ input was being overlooked. In response, Doug Ford stated that “teachers’ unions just want to fight, and I don’t want to fight with you.”
Ontario parents were given 3 choices for their child’s start date at school: September, Thanksgiving, and January. Of the 89% that responded, approximately 70% opted for a return to school on one of the dates, and the remaining 30% chose remote teaching. As a result, teachers were redeployed to teach virtually or at different schools. Many did not know where or at what level they would be teaching until a few days before classes began.
Teachers will likely face a great deal of resistance from students at a time when suspensions are no longer permitted for students from K to grade 4. Children who are used to working cooperatively and being active are not allowed to approach their classmates or share writing utensils. If de-streamed, all children – even those with severe behavioural and learning problems who require one-on-one attention – may be in one class together. Teachers cannot be within 6 feet of their pupils without putting themselves at risk, yet in the event that a student requires intervention they may have no choice.
Under new COVID-19 management policies, children who are feeling unwell for any reason (COVID-19 or otherwise) must be brought to a “Wellness Room” where they will wait with a teacher until their parents can pick them up. Parents are supposed to do a wellness check at home and not send their child back if they display any symptoms of COVID-19. 500 nurses have been deployed by the government to all Ontario schools. At a press conference, Dr. Barbara Yaffe stated “if there is an outbreak, the cohort will be sent home and tested, not the whole class or school”. However, Ford contradicted her saying “if there is an outbreak anywhere, I’ll close the school in 10 seconds”.
Leche claims to have given “very clear guidance” to school bus companies, but drivers, many of them seniors, may still be concerned. One bus holds 70 or more kids, or three classes, meaning different cohorts will be merged together with no physical distancing. As of writing this article, the government has allocated 30 million dollars for “bus hygiene” as opposed to more drivers and buses to enforce physical distancing measures.
As the pandemic continues some parents may have to return to work, meaning their kids will have to be in school. Teachers, the nation’s babysitters, are developing innovative ways to teach while trying to keep themselves and their pupils safe. They are throwing themselves into the greatest challenge of their careers like their lives depend on it – and probably do.