Hundreds of teachers, support staff, and school leaders are calling on the Manitoba government to increase funding for the education system to help with challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the education system is on the verge of collapse.

A letter sent from Advocacy for Education MB Monday morning is signed by over 400 people and has been sent to Premier Brian Pallister and Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen. The letter is asking for a clear indication of where provincial funding is going and are asking for additional support.

“As similar to the letter you recently received from our doctors and medical experts in Manitoba, teachers and education staff have reached capacity with regards to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion,” the letter reads.

“Our ability to continue supporting our students and families is in jeopardy -- this is our breaking point and collapse of our system is imminent.”

The letter says the $85.4 million in federal funding was provided to Manitoba, but it is still not clear where the money was handed out.

“We need education and clear guidelines. We need consistent messaging from our leadership during the most challenging of times, not only when restrictions are being lifted. We need to know, through action, policy, and funding, that we are valued, valuable, and are being listened to,” the letter reads.

The letter adds teachers are bouncing between two or three locations in a school simultaneously while also managing remote learners. It said school principals are starting contact tracing instead of conducting their normal duties and school divisions have run out of available substitutes to fill teacher absences.

Lindsay Brown, a teacher at Maples Collegiate, said it is weighing on them.

“It’s really taken a toll on my mental health and my ability to feel like I’m doing the job,” they said. “There are safety concerns. There are concerns about the quality of education that students are getting. There is concerns about burnout.”

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society told CTV News that teachers are struggling with blended learning, trying to teach in class and remote students together.

“Don’t ask teachers to text and drive at the same time, don’t ask them to teach in class and remotely at the same time,” James Bedford, the president of The Manitoba Teachers’ Society, said.

Speaking during a news conference on Monday, Goertzen said this year has been challenging for all teachers.

“We’re very appreciative of those working in our school system,” he said. “You’ve had a change, and you’ve had to adapt, and sometimes you’ve had to do it more quickly than you would like, and we know that.”

Goertzen noted while cases are showing up in Manitoba schools, there has been little transmission of COVID-19 within the school, which he credits to the staff of the schools.

“The evidence from a public health perspective is that the rate of transmission is comparatively low compared to other places in society, and that the schools continue to be a safe place for students to be,” he said.

“There are now, of course, more options, under the code levels we’re at. School divisions are now able to offer those more robust, at-home, and remote learning options.

“We are seeing some uptake in that, in some schools, it might be as high as 20 per cent, in others, it’s much smaller, but that means the vast majority of parents have confidence within the school system as well.”

Goertzen said since the spring, divisions have hired an additional 400 teachers and the province expects to spend more including $85 million in federal money.

On Monday the province announced it’s using $10 million from the federal pot to create a central resource centre, including 100 new teachers and 20 educational assistants, IT staff and clinicians, who are being hired to assist parents and teachers with remote learning.”

The province said the new additions will be offering the supports remotely, not inside the schools.

“If we’re not getting bodies in the buildings then I don’t think that addresses what our needs are,” Brown said.