A empty school classroom with white desks and grey plastic chairs
Photo: MChe Lee/Unsplash

An “overwhelming majority” of teachers and school specialists believe in-person learning is currently unsafe for students and staff, according to a survey distributed Tuesday by the union representing them.

In a media release Wednesday morning the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) said of the 4,418 teachers and school specialists who responded to the survey, 83.9% believe in-person learning is “not currently safe” for students and their families. Only 6.79% of respondents felt confident schools will be safe on Monday, while 9.51% were unsure.

Teachers were asked which protective measures they believe are necessary to keep them and their students safe. Contact tracing in schools was the top response, with 85% deeming it crucial. This was followed by greater access to rapid tests (84%), priority booster shots for all school staff (79%), and medical grade (N95 and KN95) masks provided for all students and staff (78%).

Only 42% of teachers felt hand washing protocols were an effective layer of protection, while 52% believe strict cohorting of students improved safety.

“It’s clear from the responses we received that teachers don’t believe they can keep their students safe under these conditions, which is always their top priority,” NSTU president Paul Wozney said in the media release. “With daily case counts now in the thousands, there is a high likelihood of hundreds of school exposures on the first day of school alone.”

When asked if schools in Nova Scotia can remain operational if in-person learning is resumed on January 10, a majority (79%) of teachers said no. In addition, 73.6% said they believed it would be “prudent” for Nova Scotia to move to remote learning until at least January 17.

A bar graph showing teachers' responses to a survey about safety going back to school next week.
NSTU teachers’ survey

Wozney said the decision to suspend contact tracing in schools in the midst of the Omicron wave without prioritizing school staff for boosters has left teachers and families feeling “extremely vulnerable” heading back to schools next week.

“We’ve had two years to strengthen safety measures inside schools so in-person learning could be sustained during outbreaks,” Wozney said.

“Unfortunately, much has been said about the protections we all know contribute to safe and sustainable in-person learning, but precious little has actually been done. It’s time to use the financial resources available, to provide teachers and students with the safe learning and working environment they deserve.”

In an email, NSTU spokesperson Mark Laventure said an email with a link to the survey was sent to all 9,300 members via email yesterday, so about 48% of the union’s membership responded.

There will be a provincial COVID-19 briefing at 3pm this afternoon.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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    1. The answer to your question is near the end of the article. “In an email, NSTU spokesperson Mark Laventure said an email with a link to the survey was sent to all 9,300 members via email yesterday, so about 48% of the union’s membership responded.”