One week before the start of the school year, teachers fully appreciate the challenges that await them. Maintaining the two-meter distance from students in the classroom will be difficult. To achieve this, some install plexiglass barriers at their desks or compete in their imagination to make screens with the means at hand.
A transparent shower curtain and hoses: it is from these materials that Nathalie (fictitious name) “patent” the barrier screen that will separate her from a student when correcting an exercise at her desk. “Plexiglass costs a hundred dollars and it is not given by the school,” said the teacher at a Montreal elementary school, who wants to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
For Nathalie, there is no question of spending more than her class budget of around $ 250 to buy protective plastic. “But you have to protect yourself well to be there for the students,” says Nathalie. What will happen if the teachers drop like flies? We are in short supply. “
His students of 5e and 6e year will have to wear the face covering in common areas of the school and in school transport. But not in the classroom, which is “understandable”, according to the teacher. They remain potential vectors of COVID-19, just like adults, recalls Nathalie.
A barrier screen therefore appears essential to him. “Vulnerable students, who do not understand [la matière], really need these moments one by one, with me at my desk, ”she says. They don’t dare to express their incomprehension in front of the whole class.
According to government directives, teachers must maintain a distance of two meters from students at all times, except in preschool (kindergarten ages 4 and 5). When this is not possible, they are required to wear a face cover (especially when traveling to school).
“Objectively, it’s easy to say that the teachers will be two meters away, there won’t be a problem,” said Mélanie Hubert, president of the Syndicat deseignement de l’Ouest de Montréal. But I’m very skeptical that in a class of 32 high school students, the teacher has his two-meter bubble and is able to teach properly and manage the class. “
This is also the opinion of Chantal (fictitious first name), who teaches in a private secondary school. “Usually we walk around the desks to see if the students are doing well,” she says.
According to her, the mask should be imposed during science lessons in the laboratory. “People are in constant need of help,” she says. I think everyone will have their mask [chez nous]. “
You have to protect yourself well to be there for the students. What will happen if the teachers drop like flies?
The Ministry of Education does not require it, however. In secondary school, students will be required to wear a face covering when traveling outside of classrooms, in common areas and in the presence of students who do not belong to their class group.
Whatever happens, Chantal will take all necessary measures to protect herself. She purchased N95 masks at her own expense. “I lost my father this summer and I represent my mother’s unique social life,” she explains. She doesn’t want to expose her to COVID-19, just like her overweight partner.
Many teachers are worried about their safety, according to Éric Gingras, president of the Syndicat de Champlain. The subject is at the heart of discussions with the three school service centers of the members they represent, in Montérégie. “For the moment, two service centers have told us that they will offer plexiglass to teachers who request them,” says Éric Gingras.
However, many questions remain unanswered. “If a teacher enters the two-meter bubble to intervene in a battle between two students, for example, will the procedural mask be offered? “Asks Eric Gingras, who points out that the fabric face cover offered by the employer is less protective than this one.
The Autonomous Federation of Education (FAE) shares the same concerns. As of Friday, it will poll all of its 49,000 members about health and safety measures planned in schools for the start of the school year. “We want to allow teachers to react quickly,” said President Sylvain Mallette.
The FAE will also call on an expert to determine whether government directives comply with occupational health and safety rules. “Quebec relied on the spring experience [pour mettre en place ces mesures], says Sylvain Mallette. However, the attendance rate was 40% to 60% in schools opened in the spring. “
Caroline did distance education during this time. She will be forced to return to class next week, despite her uncontrolled diabetes. His request for exemption was denied. A decision challenged by his union. “It worries me a lot,” said the kindergarten teacher. With little ones starting school, there is no distance possible. “
At the Montreal School Service Center (formerly the Montreal School Board), 991 teachers applied for exemption due to a medical condition. Of that number, 420 got it. Those who were refused did not meet the criteria of the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec, says the service center.