Will your child’s teacher be in class this September?
Just like many students across Ontario, there are lots of teachers who do not want to be in a classroom come September, especially in places where community infection is still a significant risk.
Some are considering either going on leave or retiring early, Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), has said, and those looking for other options to avoid in-class teaching, might be denied.
Andrew Sobolewski, president of OSSTF’s Peel District 19, said he hopes boards won’t “rule with an iron fist” and will try to accommodate all who are seeking remote teaching options, instead of going back into a classroom.
This fall teachers who are immunocompromised or are caring for someone considered high risk if they contract COVID-19 have the option to apply for accommodations with their employer.
With in-class learning set to resume this fall, many teachers are nervous about the prospect of teaching in the COVID era.
Some educators are being denied medical claims, creating the difficult decision to either resign or take an unpaid leave of absence. President of Peel’s local Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) union Gail Bannister-Clarke told The Pointer the union is helping those members whose claims have not been accepted.
“Sometimes doctors are very vague therefore it's denied,” she said.
Teachers who are older may feel safer teaching from home but could be placed in classrooms, Bannister-Clarke said, because age isn’t a factor when considering many medical conditions that can keep a teacher out of the classroom.
Some teachers in both high risk categories and those who simply do not want to take the chance of getting infected are trying to seek employment in the private sector, instead. Learning Pods is a platform being used by parents and educators looking for safer options. The Facebook group has almost 10,000 members, most of whom are in Ontario. The goal is to connect teachers with local parents to create smaller classes being taught either at the parent’s or teacher’s home in-person or online.
Bischof said if employers can’t accommodate educators some will resign while others will be forced to work in conditions they feel are unsafe.
These decisions are usually planned out and applied for months in advance but because of the pandemic, plans have become chaotic for boards and educators, unions have said.
The biggest concern for teachers, according to the unions, especially at the elementary level, is that they will come in contact with too many students without proper social distancing in place, putting them and their families at risk. Reducing class sizes to accommodate safe physical distancing is the top demand for parents, unions and educators.
President of Peel’s local Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) union Gail Bannister-Clarke
There has been increased anxiety among parents in Canada watching from afar as the virus spreads through schools in the United States. Since reopening in states such as Georgia, Nebraska, Mississippi and Tennessee, thousands of teachers and students have had to quarantine and in just eight states 15,000 children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, contrary to claims that young people, including those in elementary school, do not typically get infected.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has shared new statistics stating that in nine states children made up between 4-12 percent of tests but 3-18 percent of them tested positive.
A study published July 30 in the American medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, states: “Early reports did not find strong evidence of children as major contributors to SARS-CoV-2 spread, but school closures early in pandemic responses thwarted larger-scale investigations of schools as a source of community transmission.”
The research paper concluded that young children, below the age of five, carry significantly higher levels of the virus in their nasal passage than adults and older children carry about the same levels as adults.
“Thus, young children can potentially be important drivers of SARS-CoV-2 spread in the general population, as has been demonstrated with respiratory syncytial virus, where children with high viral loads are more likely to transmit. Behavioral habits of young children and close quarters in school and day care settings raise concern for SARS-CoV-2 amplification in this population as public health restrictions are eased,” the research paper, which was based on examinations of 145 COVID-19 patients (broken into three groups: under 5; 5 to 17; and 18 to 65) with mild to moderate cases, concluded.
These high case numbers and risks among student populations have added another layer of concern among many parents, educators and unions calling for a better plan to reduce class sizes in elementary schools.
Through a survey to inform its reopening plans, the Peel District School Board (PDSB) has heard back from 78 percent of families with a student in elementary school and 81 percent of those with a student in secondary school. Of these families, 30 percent of students in elementary school and 17 percent in high school will be choosing to learn completely online in September.
The PDSB will have 26 percent of students (approximately 40,000) doing online learning with approximately 116,000 having some form of in-class education.
Critics say money provided by the provincial government is not enough to reduce class sizes in all elementary schools in either board. Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce have been defending their reopening plan since it was announced July 30.
To aid students and teachers, PDSB schools will use a staggered approach to start the year. Details of the plan are still being worked out. The board has also announced there will be a delayed start for online learning and there could also be a delayed start for in-class education.
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), according to early responses from families, will have approximately 75 percent of students back in class.
Many families in Peel don’t have the option of keeping their children home.
Schools in many less affluent neighbourhoods such as those in Mississauga’s Malton area, could face higher risk of transmission. For families that are relying on educators to be back in class, teachers with their own concerns are caught in a demographic dilemma.
While schools are giving students the option of whether or not to return to class, the economic realities for some families doesn't leave them with much choice.
The average total individual income in one of Malton’s four Census tract subdivisions in 2016 was $29,213, and for families already struggling to get by, it would be difficult to keep children home, because most do not have the luxury of remote work, while many are employed in essential jobs with greater risk of exposure to the virus.
Between February 23 and August 8, the rate of COVID-19 among every 100,000 residents in the same Malton Census tract subdivisions was 1,477 (77 of the 5,212 residents in this neighbourhood tested positive for the disease during this period). The number of residents in the area is based on the 2016 Census.
That rate is about 14 times higher than the rate in one of Lorne Park’s Census tract subdivisions where the average total individual income was about $110,000 in 2016.
When asked by The Pointer if boards will be putting more funding towards schools in the hardest hit neighbourhoods, to protect students and teachers, DPCDSB said it will, “prioritize technology purchases so that students will have the devices and internet connectivity required to support online learning and other class resources which support the face-to-face instruction.”
On Twitter, PDSB said it is planning on reducing class sizes in hotspot neighbourhoods as well as across the board.
Classes in both school boards can reach upwards of 20-30 kids making physical distancing nearly impossible. In high school, students will be in cohorts of 15 with mandatory masking, something that critics have been asking for in elementary schools since July. PDSB has mandated that all students, except those in kindergarten, will have to wear a mask.
With all the outstanding concerns, it remains to be seen how many teachers will decide not to go back to school.
Email: [email protected]
COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you.
Submit a correction about this story