By Sara Poraria
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is reopening its schools after an eight-week closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government of Ontario issued a “stay-at-home order” Jan. 14 after the spike in cases. The TDSB remained closed after the holiday break until Feb. 15.
There is a lot of stress on students and teachers who are concerned about their safety as they head back into the classroom.
“I had two kids go home yesterday because of anxiety attacks,” says TDSB teacher Maria (who prefers her real name not be used for fear of reprisal) on the first day back from the extended break.
Maria says the only thing keeping teachers in the classroom this year was the students. Maria says her students abide by all the COVID-19 restrictions and rules.
“I wouldn’t stick this out this year, this is crazy,” says Maria. She says teachers are constantly coming home with headaches due to wearing masks constantly, talking to teach lessons, and reminding students to wash their hands and keep their distance.
The provincial government pushed March break back to April 12, which upset many teachers. They have been teaching virtually since Jan. 4 and were looking forward to the break.
“Do I think it was a good decision, well I don’t know, probably not,” TDSB chair Alexander Brown says about moving March break a month back.
Brown says while less disruption in the classroom is good, people really do need a break.
“Nothing has changed. None of the protocols changed,” says Maria.
Maria explains since the pandemic started nothing has changed to ensure the safety of the students and staff.
In TDSB schools, masks are mandatory and bottles of sanitizer are available. There are no COVID-19 tests taking place or temperature checks. The teacher says plexiglass is not permitted because optically it scares the students. Students cannot physically distance themselves from one another, due to the class sizes, it is physically impossible.
“I can get them 90-centimetres apart head-to-head, from desk-to-desk it’s maybe 50-centimetres,” says Maria
The teachers are trying their hardest to keep students at a reasonable distance from one another but with the number of students and classroom sizes, it’s impossible.
The TDSB teacher wants to know why schools do not have to abide by the physical distancing rules that everyone else is meant to follow.
Brown says there was a plan in June 2020 that would only allow for 15 students per classroom to help maintain social distancing. Toronto Mayor John Tory offered 36 to 40 city-owned facilities to help implement this plan, but the plan itself would have cost $20 million. The cost was impossible for the TDSB.
Brown says a recent Toronto Star story using Freedom of Information (FOI) documents showed the government has proposed a plan that is the plan the TDSB had submitted last summer with enhancements.
“You look at that and you think they already knew what they needed to do,” Brown says.
“You have a premier and a minister of education who have never really worked in the public school system, so they don’t know what goes into it. So, I think it’s a lot of mismanagement,” says Maria.
Brown says lack of communication shows the need for openness.
“One thing I have learned is whatever the communication is or how you’re communicating, make sure you do it often and well and you have to be completely honest. Here’s what’s happening, here’s what we can do, here’s what we can’t do,” Brown says.