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CANADA: 8 in 10 teachers worried about plans to reopen schools in the fall, report says

Nearly 75 per cent say they are concerned about the mental health and well-being of their students in relation to the pandemic

Many teachers will head back to the classroom in September as the coronavirus pandemic continues, but unknowns and anxieties remain.

What school will look like, how teaching will work in practice, and how students are faring during the pandemic are areas of concern for teachers, a new report by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE) has found.

According to the report, which collected responses from nearly 18,000 teachers from across Canada, eight in 10 have concerns about returning to school in the fall after the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the findings, nearly 75 per cent say they are concerned about the mental health and well-being of their students in relation to the pandemic. Seventy-three per cent also have concerns around getting their students the supplies they need for any online classes.

What’s more, 44 per cent of teachers report concerns with their own mental health and well-being. Seven in 10 also said they have concerns or questions about how the world after the COVID-19 pandemic will impact their teaching and learning environment.

Out of the teachers who responded to open-ended questions, 99 per cent said they have concerns about the return to school buildings, and discussed anxieties around not knowing plans, adding that constant changes from ministries of education have taken a toll on their mental health and well-being.

The proposed plans to reopen schools vary across provinces and territories and include things like physically distanced desks, face masks or shields for staff and staggered pickup and drop-off times, among other things.

In British Columbia, desks will be spaced apart, group gatherings in hallways and other common areas will be prohibited, and students will spend increased time outdoors.

The province of Manitoba has put forward three potential plans to bring back school, and the government will announce which one will be used on Aug. 1. The decision will depend on how severe the outbreak is in the province at that time.

Meanwhile, Quebec ⁠— the epicentre of the pandemic in Canada ⁠— will reopen preschools, elementary schools and high schools up to Grade 9 at maximum capacity come September, and attendance will be compulsory.

High schoolers in their two final years will have the flexibility to alternate between learning at home and in the classroom. CEGEPs and universities will be permitted to reopen with a hybrid option of online and in-class learning with 1.5-metre physical-distancing rules in place in lecture halls.

While these plans are helpful, experts told Global News that the schooling experience will require some trial and error.

“We have never tried to do this before as a society,” Dr. Allison McGeer, a microbiologist and director of infection control at Mount Sinai Hospital, recently told Global News.

“People will be watching carefully, but of course, there will be issues and challenges (with these plans).”

Like teachers, other experts worry about the effect the pandemic has had on kids, and the effect it will continue to have once they’re back at school.

According to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s survey, 83 per cent of teachers reported a worsening in students’ “overall readiness to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic, including 38 per cent who indicate it has ‘significantly worsened.'”

Kristina Llewellyn, a social development studies professor at the University of Waterloo, worries the changes will reverse the work educators have done over the years to foster a healthy and multifaceted learning environment.

“For a long time, we’ve told kids that learning is based on tapping into their social and emotional selves,” she previously told Global News.

“We’ve spent a lot of time enhancing that, and now all of a sudden we’re saying, ‘Don’t tap into that, don’t be social beings.'”

— With files from Global News’ Meghan Collie 

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.