A Red Deer teacher who may have as many 30 students in his classroom next month says maintaining public health guidelines will be a challenge.
Stephen Merredew, who is also the local Alberta Teachers’ Association president for Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, said he has been fielding many questions.
“(Teachers) know that the classroom is the best place for learning. We’re eager to get back to that. We’re courageous. We’re resourceful. We’re going to do what it takes to make it as safe as possible. But there’s limits to what one person can do in one room in one building,” said the Grade 9 teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas Middle School which ran at 140 per cent capacity prior to the pandemic.
He said there are all kinds of spaces in the community that could be used to improve physical distancing.
The province has mandated that masks will be mandatory for all students and teachers in Grades 4 to 12 so Merredew expected everyone in his class will need a mask, but questions remain about the quality of masks the province will provide.
The teacher said he will also have to juggle educational duties with looking out for a laundry list of COVID-19 symptoms in his students.
“As teachers now we’re kind of the health police. So besides being responsible for student learning within our own classrooms, we’re having to monitor students for signs of illness. We have to take that seriously. Public health is at stake here.”
He said he was glad his school division was giving teachers three days to prepare at school before the staggered entry for students.
A central Alberta elementary school teacher, who did not want to use her name, said there could be as many as 28 students in her classroom, but was unsure how many will return.
“My prediction is some parents won’t send them for the first couple of weeks to see how it goes. If everything goes fine, they might send them,” said the teacher who works in a community outside Red Deer.
As a parent, she is sending her children back to school.
“If I was in the city, I don’t know if I’d feel the same. But where we are, the numbers are very, very low.”
She said so far teachers have as much information as anyone else about how schools will be re-worked to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Schools are inherently community based, so trying to separate the kids and figure out how you’re going to teach them all while social distancing, it’s really difficult to wrap your head around how that’s going to work.
“A lot of teachers don’t have desks (for students), they have tables. So they have to come up with a way to divide their tables so their kids are more isolated.
“It’s going to be strange for sure, but it will be fine.”