Children are less happy and anxious about the future and the impact of COVID-19 on their learning, while teachers are largely dissatisfied with pandemic safety measures in schools, a new survey of kids, parents and staff at the Toronto District School Board found.

When compared with similar surveys conducted last spring and three years ago, the number of pupils who said they were “happy all the time” declined 10 per cent, while the number of students reported chronic feelings of anxiety rose 16 per cent.

The number of students aged grade 7 to 12 reporting they are hopeful for the future has decreased 20 per cent in the past year.

Across all ages, 53 per cent of parents and 66 per cent of all kids said they were worried they would fall behind in their academic progress because of COVID-19.

Nearly 96,000 parents, 36,000 children in grades 6-12 and 6,000 TDSB staff participated in the online survey, which was roughly representative of the board’s socio-economic and demographic profile.

“We are encouraged to see that parents/guardians and students feel that staff are caring and supportive during this challenging time,” a letter accompanying the results sent to all TDSB stakeholders read.

“However, results reveal that this work is taking a toll on staff. A key focus going forward will be on better supporting the health and well-being of staff while continuing to provide a high level of support for students and families.”

When turned to staff, especially frontline teachers and other support workers, the survey found there is considerable concern not only with the current safety protocols but also with how they are made.

Only 20 per cent of staff said they felt safe from contracting COVID-19.

Among elementary teachers, caretakers and other support staff, only 30 per cent said current infection control protocols were adequate.

More than three-quarters of all staff said they wanted more information on how COVID-19 safety protocols were formulated.

Across all staff, 70 per cent said they are feeling “burnt out and anxious” as a result of their jobs, while 50 per cent said they were coping moderately well to extremely well with anxiety.

Only 32 per cent of all TDSB staff said they had the “equipment, tools and training needed to do their job well and safely.”

On virtual learning, kids and parents mostly reported it was easy to access and use, but said the amount of time devoted to teaching each day was lacking and 84 per cent of students said they preferred in-person learning to virtual school.

The survey showed that prior to the Christmas break 89 per cent of parents (felt their child) and 81 per cent of students themselves felt protected from COVID-19 at school due to the safety precautions being taken.

In a statement a spokesperson for education minister Stephen Lecce said, “Due to the hard work of parents, students and education staff, and a comprehensive plan that was approved by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the vast majority of parents and students continue to feel safe. To respond to these new risks, we have stepped up access to asymptomatic testing, enhanced the requirement and quality of masks, and stricter screening before students and staff enter our schools. We will continue to invest in the safety of our schools and the mental health of our students.”

Ontario school boards went virtual only from March to June 2020, and provided parallel options for in-class or all-virtual learning in the 2021 school year.

The TDSB conducted virtual-only learning for all students through January 2021 to Feb. 18 due to high COVID-19 rates that prompted the province to enact a state of emergency and a stay-at-home order.