This story is part of a CBC News series examining the stresses the pandemic has placed on educators and the school system. For the series, CBC News sent a questionnaire to thousands of education professionals across Canada to find out how they and their students are doing in this extraordinary school year. Nearly 9,500 educators responded. Read more stories in the national series here.
Two-thirds of Manitoba education workers strongly believe the province has not made education a priority in pandemic planning, according to a recent questionnaire filled out by more than 1,000 education workers in the province.
More than 80 per cent who responded to CBC News’ questionnaire do not think the government has handled things well, and more than 90 per cent of respondents said the messaging from the government has been confusing.
CBC News sent an invitation to fill out a questionnaire — voluntarily and anonymously — to educators across Canada. In Manitoba, 833 classroom teachers, 125 teaching support staff and 63 administrators — including principals and vice-principals — responded between April 26-28.
School staff left hundreds of written comments criticizing the provincial government’s handling of K-12 education during the pandemic.
“The way the government has made changes has been absolutely ridiculous and impossible to implement. It’s like they’ve never set foot in a classroom. They should be ashamed,” one teacher wrote.
“This has been the absolute worst year of my entire career and I am contemplating changing professions,” they added.
Another teacher told CBC News they felt the government did not give teachers a voice in pandemic planning.
“Our professional judgment has been completely overlooked,” they wrote.
Many teachers said a constant frustration with the province’s communication was adjusting to ever-changing public health guidelines with little notice. Schools in Winnipeg, Brandon and several other school divisions were put back into remote learning with just days’ notice in May because of rising COVID-19 case counts.
One teacher said they had moved to Manitoba from another province during the pandemic.
“I was stunned by the lack of understanding and support this government is giving educators. Now to push Bill 64 when the public is focused on a pandemic is slimy!”
Education reform during pandemic a ‘knife in the back’
Dozens of teachers raised concerns with Bill 64, the Education Modernization Act — a sweeping plan to reform public school education in Manitoba that will dissolve English-language school boards and centralize decision-making within government.
Bill 64 … is a slap in the face to everyone who is working their butts off in this pandemic– Manitoba teacher
“I believe the Pallister government has been underhanded, using the pandemic to move ahead with measures that will endanger public education,” one teacher wrote.
“Bill 64 is a knife in the back to all educators provincewide and no amount of non-answers and round-about language from the premier will change that,” another said.
Many said the stress of Bill 64 is worse than teaching in the pandemic.
“I am not beaten down [as] a teacher because of COVID. It is the education review and Bill 64 that has me considering a career change. It is a slap in the face to everyone who is working their butts off in this pandemic,” one wrote.
Education reform was underway before pandemic: minister
Manitoba’s education minister said the government received its report on how to reform the K-12 system at the same time the pandemic started — and that the process will take years.
Cliff Cullen said consultation is happening right now, including 40 direct meetings with teachers.
“We recognize any time we look at change, it does create some anxiety. But the reality is they should see little change in classroom activity, in their day-to-day work.”
Cullen said Bill 64 is aimed at cutting down the administrative system, including the 37 different school divisions.
“Our goal is to shift resources from the administrative side to the front room, classroom, so that we have more resources available for teachers,” he said.
Cullen said the government did its best to keep school staff informed throughout the pandemic.
“We are trying to be respectful of schools in terms of making these decisions. Unfortunately, this pandemic is certainly evolving,” he said.
CBC sent the questionnaire to 52,351 email addresses of school workers in eight different provinces, across nearly 200 school districts. Email addresses were scraped from school websites that publicly listed them. The questionnaire was sent using SurveyMonkey.
CBC chose provinces and school districts based on interest by regional CBC bureaus and availability of email addresses. As such, this questionnaire is not a representative survey of educators in Canada. None of the questions were mandatory, and not all respondents answered all of the questions.
Data analysis: Roberto Rocha and Dexter McMillan.