Saskatchewan

'I don't feel protected': Sask. teachers want stricter guidelines before Sept.

Many Saskatchewan teachers say they don't feel comfortable returning to school under the province's guidelines. 

Educators consider retiring or running at-home schools over returning to classes

The Saskatchewan government says physical distancing will be encouraged in schools, but it isn't giving students and teachers masks in September. It also isn't reducing class sizes. Some teachers would like to see changes to the guidelines that came out this week. (CBC News file photo)

Many Saskatchewan teachers say they don't feel comfortable returning to school under the province's recently detailed guidelines. 

The province announced its eight-point back to school plan Tuesday. The government says physical distancing will be encouraged, but it isn't giving students and teachers masks in September. It also isn't reducing class sizes.

Chris Keyes, an elementary school principal in Regina who has worked in education for 30 years, said he loves his job, but is considering early retirement after seeing the plan. 

"I am hopeful that between now and the time we actually open the doors and start school that there are some fairly significant modifications to what was rolled out [Tuesday]," said Keyes. "But I gotta tell you, I'm feeling a great deal of anxiety about going back.

"Seeing such a laissez faire approach to it was quite shocking."

(Left to right) Substitute teacher Kayla Rourke, elementary school principal Chris Keyes and Grade 2 teacher Gaby Camalari. (Submitted photos)

One thing the government added to the plan since releasing an early outline in June was a new level system in which escalations of COVID-19 in the province would see the current level classification increase. 

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said that in September, the province should be classified as level one. If community transmission increases, schools will move to a level two, which includes "mask usage as determined by the chief medical health officer." At a level three, school capacity would be reduced. Students would return to remote learning at level four. 

Shahab wouldn't say exactly what would cause a change in the level. 

Keyes said he thinks the system is backwards. 

"It seems to me you would want to start at the highest level of safety and then work your way back, not unlike we've done in the province in terms of reopening," he said. 

"To see that kind of flipped, I have no words for that. It just escapes me."

Keyes said students should be grouped into smaller cohorts to prevent COVID-19 from spreading throughout schools.

Grade 2 teacher says going back is an 'emotional whirlwind'

Gaby Camalari, who teaches Grade 2 in Saskatoon, also didn't expect to be going back to a full classroom. 

"The number one thing I hope for was smaller class sizes to avoid the spread of germs or morning classes and then afternoon classes," she said. "I just wish the government would've put more precautions in place."

She also said more money should be added to the custodial budget to allow for thorough sanitization throughout the day. 

"I already have so many things that I do," she said of the responsibility of sanitization falling on teachers.

"Obviously I would do it if I had to, if it fell on my shoulders, for the safety of my students. But there are some nights when all of a sudden I look at the clock at six o'clock, seven o'clock and I'm just leaving school. To have that extra responsibility, it would be a lot."

Camalari said she plans to wear a mask and thinks it should be mandatory for all teachers and students who are age 10 and up. 

Her mother recently underwent chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer and is still rehabilitating, although a recent scan came back clear of the disease. Her sister and boyfriend are both asthmatic. She said the stress of going back to school and possibly catching the virus is an "emotional whirlwind." She plans to try and stay distant from her loved ones in the fall. 

Some substitute teachers told they can only work at 10 schools

Kayla Rourke is a high school substitute teacher in three divisions in and around Saskatoon. 

She said substitute teachers should've been granted temporary benefits during the pandemic. Currently, if a sub gets sick and can't go to school, they don't get paid.  

"I would have liked subs to have been included in the planning and the thought because they really weren't," said Rourke.

She said subs could find themselves going to multiple classrooms over the course of a week.

"I don't feel protected," she said. "I don't feel valued."

Education Minister Gord Wyant stressed the importance of normalcy in schools for children when he announced the guidelines on Tuesday. Rourke said children know that it's not a normal time right now. She said it feels empty to hear that the plan was created for the benefit of their mental health, when many kids already can't see their friends or family members.

"Why are we risking the lives of children? Why we are risking the lives of school staff? Why we are risking anybody's life?" Rourke said.

Rourke said she would normally teach about 100 kids per day in a high school over five or six periods. One of the school divisions she works for, Saskatoon Public Schools, emailed subs saying they will be restricted to working at eight to 10 schools. Rourke said that could mean teaching at 10 different schools in a two-week period, putting her in front of 1,000 different kids. 

She said she would like to see subs hired by individual schools on temporary contracts.

"Every day they just go into the classroom that they need to go into that day and if for some reason, which I do not see being a thing, there is no classroom to go in that day, they could just like help teachers with prep," she said.

Teachers plan email blitz, masked gathering

Rourke said she is already researching home-schooling and may work privately for parents who want an in-home instructor. 

She said teachers are taking part in a letter-writing blitz, sending emails to Wyant, Premier Scott Moe and NDP education critic Carla Beck.

On Tuesday afternoon, Beck said she'd already heard from teachers and parents through every channel possible asking her party to "continue to call for a safer plan for reopening of schools." 

"And that's exactly what we intend to do," Beck said. 

Other teachers are calling for a province-wide movement at MLA offices Friday called Mask Up for Education.

Keyes, who said he had been waiting all summer to see the plan, is now hoping provincial officials "sharpen their pencils" and draft a new one.

"I am so worried about everybody that has to go back into a school: children, the adults, the parents that are in contact," he said. "I don't want to lose anybody."

About the Author

Alex Soloducha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.

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