OTTAWA -- Just over a week before the new school year begins, the union representing Ottawa's public elementary teachers says its members are "anxious" about returning to class during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers Federation President Susan Gardiner warns not all teachers will be ready for the first day of classes on Sept. 8.

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's "The Goods" with fill-in host Kristy Cameron, Gardiner said teachers have concerns with the back to school plan to limit the spread of COVID-19 this fall.

"Teachers have been ready to go back to a safe environment for quite some time now. What they’re not feeling is that this plan is safe and what they're not feeling is that there is anything here that is predictable," said Gardiner during the interview on Sunday morning.

"So in a time of crisis; predictability, stability, consistency, normalcy, all those things are important, not just for children but for all human beings. And it just so happens that this government has been changing the plan, the so-called plan, for several weeks now. Every week we hear something different."

The Chair of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board admits the board is not prepared to start school today. But Lynn Scott told CFRA that "we will be prepared by the eighth of September."

Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA Sunday morning, Gardiner was asked if teachers will be ready for the first day of class in nine days.

"The people doing the work on the ground level are the educators, are the front line workers. So when we're talking here about 'we are ready', I can tell you teachers aren't ready," said Gardiner.

"They don't even know what they're assignments are yet. So no, I don't agree that everyone will be ready on Sept. 8."

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board voted last week to push the first day of school back to Sept. 8, with a staggered start for elementary and secondary school students.  Gardiner says it may not be enough time, since some teachers won't learn their assignments until Friday.

"We personally believe that it should have been pushed off even further because this is going to be very difficult. People are going to find out their assignments on the fourth, they may not even be staying in the same school and yet they're expected to be ready, with lesson plans in hand by the eighth of September."

Gardiner pointed out during the interview on Newstalk 580 CFRA that teachers normally "spend the summer" working on lesson plans for the full year.

The Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers Federation is also concerned about plans to keep children safe in the classroom, including classes with more than 20 students.

Newstalk 580 CFRA's Kristy Cameron asked Gardiner about comments from Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, who said Ontario's plan for back to school is sound, and everyone needs to follow the plan in order for everyone to be safe. 

Gardiner says the "safety plan is not in line with what's going on in the rest of society," and mandatory face masks for all students and smaller class sizes would be a start.

"What we’re hearing in every other aspect of our society is that the two metre distancing is extremely important, wearing a mask over the age of two is extremely important – well those things are not happening in schools," said Gardiner.

"When you say if teachers just following the plan. The truth is children are not used to distancing, especially at a young age. They don't necessarily have the wherewithal to sit for six hours in one desk, and so we're not providing the distancing with the large class sizes so it will be very difficult to keep the safe environment."

Gardiner says smaller class sizes of 10 to 15 students wold ensure students can practice physical distancing. The Ottawa Carleton District School Board says it is working to have smaller class sizes at some schools where the impact of COVID-19 is greater.

Approximately 700 elementary and secondary school teachers have made inquiries to the Ottawa Carleton District School Board about the return to work, including requests for accommodations.

Gardiner says members are "anxious" about the new school year, adding teachers don't have predictability for the new school year and are nervous about the safety plan.

"The importance here is the safety not just of teachers, but they're concerned for the students in their class as well and their families," said Gardiner.

"So the most important thing to us is the health and safety of both families, children and the families and children of our employees, our own teachers."