Yukon teachers anxious about returning to school amid pandemic, union says

·4 min read

Amber Allison says she fears for her family as she prepares to teach elementary school in Yukon next month.

Her daughter is immunocompromised, and Allison worries about potentially being exposed to COVID-19.

"It terrifies me," said Allison, who works one-on-one with students as a learning assistance teacher at Takhini Elementary School.

"I'm at one of the smallest elementary schools in Whitehorse and I can still be in contact with up to 150 people a day," she said.

Yukon schools will follow new health and safety measures set out by the government when students head back to class in August. But the guidelines acknowledge that physical distancing won't always be possible, particularly with younger students.

"We have a hard enough time during normal times keeping kids where they're supposed to be," Allison said.

"We are setting ourselves up for a situation in which there's going to be a lot of stress ... a lot of frustration, and a lot of really worn-out educators."

Ted Hupé, president of the Yukon Teachers' Association, said he has spoken with other anxious teachers.

"No one's given them much information," said Hupe. He wants to see procedures to keep teachers and staff safe.

But the timelines are tight, he said. The Department of Education has released its back-to-school guidelines, but school operational plans aren't due until Aug. 12 — a week before school starts.

"It's worrisome," Hupé said. "Nobody's happy with the timelines."

Some educators should be online-only, teacher says

Allison wants to teach from home this year. She thinks some teachers should be dedicated to virtual learning for students who stay home.

More kids will likely be out of school this year; the new COVID-19 protocols require students to immediately go home if they develop any cough or cold symptoms.

"I'm not going to do my job the best I can if I'm in a constant state of stress." - Amber Allison, elementary school teacher in Whitehorse

"If there are more teachers like me, who are compromised or have family members who are compromised ... it's simple enough to start mixing and matching," said Allison.

"I'm not going to do my job the best I can if I'm in a constant state of stress."

The Department of Education says it is still identifying each school's needs and working with principals to adapt based on health and safety guidelines, said spokesperson Kyle Nightingale.

"This planning includes establishing a process for working with school staff on any adjustments or accommodations to ensure their health and safety is protected," Nightingale said in an email.

Maggie MacPherson/CBC
Maggie MacPherson/CBC

Hupé said the union doesn't yet know how many teachers have health concerns, or how many parents will keep children home from school.

He said the Education Department is expected to send a notice to staff this week, telling them to contact their principal if they have issues.

Allison worries schools will be "reactive" once the semester starts.

"We're not hearing anything more than parents are hearing," she said.

"As a parent, I'm concerned that the teachers aren't prepared. And as a teacher, I'm concerned that we are not given the time or resources to be able to prepare."

Teachers' jobs will be different

Hupé said teachers will have two days of health and safety training before school starts, including a webinar on student mental health.

Teachers' jobs will look quite different this year under the new COVID-19 safety guidelines, he said.

There are new classroom procedures for spacing and frequent cleaning, and students will have to move around the school more carefully.

Submitted by Amber Allison
Submitted by Amber Allison

Teachers and students may also be cleaning areas that are touched frequently, the new guidelines say, to help "reduce the burden" on custodians.

Allison says the extra cleaning and preparation time will limit her teaching abilities.

"I don't think my job as a teacher is to spend my time cleaning when I could be spending that time with kids," she said.

Hupé said he's confident that "everyone has the teachers' and the students' well-being in mind."

Still, "we're going to encounter things at the beginning of the school year that we probably haven't anticipated," he said.