Saskatchewan's school system continues to be stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patrick Maze, the president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, says there are multiple layers of challenges that schools are dealing with right now.
"The whole education system across the province is pretty much in disarray right now," Maze said. "We've got lots of situations where there are 50 per cent or less students in classrooms. In-school administrators are being pulled out of their offices and having to cover classrooms, learning assistance teachers and EAL teachers are being pulled from their assignments and covering classes. So it's just the compounding effects of all these things."
Maze said this has led to certain students not getting the resources that they need.
"The students who require and need extra help from those specialist teachers don't receive it, and so their education is suffering," he said. "In some cases we've had parents being told that they may have to keep their special needs kids at home because we don't have educational assistance there to provide one-to-one instruction."
"The whole system is being overwhelmed and it's just really at kind of a crisis point right now."
Maze added that all of this has created a difficult environment for teachers to work in.
"Many teachers feel defeated. They're trying their best, they want to put on a good front for students but at the same point, they're being pulled from different assignments, being told that they need to cover for supervision for other staff members who are away, and yet all of that pulls them away from being able to teach the assignment that they're actually supposed to be teaching, and so they don't have time to put together the lesson plans that they would normally be able to put together, and then they're also trying to respond in two different directions somewhat...online for students who are at home, but then also still teach a full lesson during the day like they normally would. So just pulled in a million different directions."
Maze added that schools were hoping to resume classes a few days later following the Christmas break to allow for staff to get organized with cohorts in place, but that was never able to be arranged with government.
In addition, he says some school divisions have been dealing with mask shortages, and the N95 masks have not yet been provided.
Meanwhile, in the South East Cornerstone Public School Division, there are approximately 60 teachers away from work due to COVID-related reasons. At the same time, the division is also dealing with a shortage of substitute teachers, many of whom are part of an older age bracket and are more vulnerable to contracting the virus.
Director of Education Lynn Little said this has created challenges for the staff who are able to continue working.
"We do have some situations where we have para-professionals who are monitoring and supervising classes while the teachers work to teach a couple of classes at one time simultaneously," Little said. "So we have tremendous support from the staff, but we are very near the point in many locations where we will be needing to move potentially to remote (learning) due to operational challenges."
Little described the mood of teachers right now as "tired" and "stressful."
"Teachers are known for having big hearts and really wanting to support all the children...that's why they entered the profession, and that weighs heavy on folks," she said. "And so we're very concerned with folks just generally speaking and wanting to make sure that we're as supportive as possible."