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‘I am constantly the COVID police.’ Physical distancing has become the biggest challenge for Ontario principals

‘I am constantly the COVID police.’ Physical distancing has become the biggest challenge for Ontario principals
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Principals say ensuring physical distancing has been their top challenge during the pandemic , a new survey by People for Education has found.

The report by the research and advocacy group, to be released Tuesday, asked administrators to rank their concerns — and for leaders in elementary and secondary schools offering in-person classes, almost three-quarters named that as one of their top two issues, followed by co-ordinating and scheduling staff.

“Smaller class sizes. It is impossible to keep students socially distanced. I am constantly the COVID police,” said one principal in an elementary school in northern Ontario.

Blaine MacDougall, president of the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario, said administrators are exhausted. “They understand it’s a pandemic and they are there for their students, and for their staff and for their families — they just wish that a couple of things could be taken off their plates” during a time of “unprecedented pivoting and changes.”

The report notes principals’ extra duties, such as implementing COVID changes, screening, reporting and contact tracing, plus timetabling — and re-timetabling — as well as co-ordinating efforts with local public health units. As the province , principals will also be responsible for weekly reporting.

“This isn’t principals saying ‘our issues are worse or more important than anybody else’s,’ ” said People for Education executive director Annie Kidder. “These are people who are saying this because they are responsible for people in their schools” and are asking for smaller classes or more education assistants to help their staff.

When asked about stress levels, about half of principals in schools offering in-person classes said their stress is unmanageable, and almost 60 per cent of virtual principals felt that way.

“It’s been the most challenging year as an administrator — but at the other end, it has also been the most rewarding” to see everyone pulling together, said Toronto Catholic principal Robert D’Addario.

D’Addario, of Our Lady of Lourdes elementary in downtown Toronto, said the board has been good at providing administrators with guidance and supports, and along with the help of the Angel Foundation for Learning, his students don’t have to pay for anything this year — from masks to water bottles, to snacks and virtual field trips.

He agrees that physical distancing has been “the number one concern” but said it helped that the board mandated masks from kindergarten up at the start of the school year. At his school, students are provided with masks— and a visor if they want one.

The People for Education report notes that principals would like to delay any curriculum changes and do away with “all non-essential paperwork” and a shorter school day to allow time for planning during the pandemic.

The report, which is part of People for Education’s annual school survey, heard from 1,173 schools across Ontario, most of them offering in-person learning.
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