Parents might be looking for their children to safely return to schools full-time in September, but many teachers and staff at Ottawa's largest school board are less comfortable with the idea, according to the results of a survey that saw 28,000 people give their feedback.
They all agree they want clearer expectations — for assignments, for what's being asked of teachers, and for what to do if anyone shows up sick to school.
The online survey had a "tremendous response," according to the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), which has more than 70,000 students and 9,000 staff.
Parents, guardians, older students and staff answered anonymously from July 3 to July 13. They shared their experiences with online learning, as well as their thoughts about what might happen in September. Respondents also read and ranked a sample of comments from others.
Students in Grades 7 to 12 were comfortable with online learning, but admitted the biggest barrier was losing motivation this past spring. Students called for the often-empty soap dispensers in the washrooms to be filled, and those who are graduating, in particular, want to know what to expect this school year.
Many parents said they are seeking a full-time return to school, after a spring during which they felt overwhelmed and unable to support their children's online learning. The top three things on their minds are being able to work, giving their children more time to learn, and safety practices in the schools.
"Children need to socialize. They need to feel connected with others and feel human," wrote one parent. "We need to create some opportunities for them to interact and not just with a screen."
School-year jitters for staff
But of the nearly 2,700 staff who responded to the survey, about 35 per cent answered they were "not at all comfortable" about a return to the classroom. A similar proportion answered "somewhat comfortable".
For those who work in schools, much of the feedback was safety related. They wanted reduced class sizes, close monitoring of cleaning, and access to personal protective equipment.
"The existing culture around illness must change," wrote one educator. "Currently staff and students come in even if 'under the weather.' Parents MUST keep sick kids home."
Teachers also worried about workload if they are asked to teach students in class and those learning from home at the same time.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has added details to its plans for how schools might function come September, and will discuss them at a trustee video conference meeting Tuesday at 9 p.m.
There are three options on the table for September: full-time learning in the classroom, full-time learning remotely, or a hybrid of the two.
The provincial government had floated a hybrid model earlier, but the board decided at its board meeting earlier this month that it prefers students return to school full-time. The Ontario government is expected to make a final decision on the format by August 4.
In the full-day scenario, OCDSB expects full class sizes for all grades except kindergarten, with different daily routines in order to follow public health protocols. For the hybrid scenario, the board now envisions groups of students attending Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays, and alternate Wednesdays. (A previous hybrid model had set aside Wednesdays for school cleaning.)
Elementary school children would not rotate among classrooms. Everyone would have to perform a self-screening before entering school, entry and exits might be staggered, and there would be no school assemblies.
Any parent can always choose to have their child learn remotely for the next school year, which the board has requested now begin September 3 instead of September 1.
The OCDSB plans to ask for confirmation in August about whether a student will learn in-class or remotely, once it hears the provincial government's final decision.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board, meanwhile, released its own guide for parents earlier this month for how it would safely reopen schools, and is conducting a survey for those who choose distance learning. The survey closes July 22.