Enforcing two-metre social distancing in overcrowded classrooms, and keeping young students in rows of desks all day if school resumes in the fall, has sparked concerns among teachers.
Those are two of the challenges raised in Alberta Education’s re-entry draft plan, which the Alberta Teachers’ Association and others have offered feedback on in advance of a decision on how schooling will be delivered.
ATA president Jason Schilling said safety is the top issue among teachers.
“We have a class size issue in some of the classrooms in this province and teachers are just wondering how is that social distancing going to work when you have a class of 40 or 30. How do you keep kids two metres apart during when you barely fit some of the kids in your classroom?”
Schilling said sitting in desks for long periods of time “would be an extraordinary measure for someone who is seven or eight.
“You want kids up, you want them interacting. Moving around a classroom is important in those grades, and to put them in a desk all day, is not the best.”
The province has been considering three scenarios: normal school operations; partially reopening schools with some restrictions; and continuing at-home learning.
In June, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said she expects students will be back in classrooms in September, but the decision on which model is chosen won’t be released until Aug. 1.
The re-entry draft rejects making masks mandatory unless contact is longer than 15 minutes or two-metre distancing is impossible, said Schilling.
The plan lacks common standards for extra cleaning and does not include additional funds for schools to hire caretakers or purchase cleaning supplies, according to a letter the ATA sent to LaGrange outlining teachers’ worries.
Schilling said currently, some schools don’t have custodial staff at all during the day.
“There needs to be funding provided to school boards so that they can hire extra staff and procure supplies that they will need for the cleaning of schools.
“And it can’t fall on the teachers. Teachers are busy teaching. They will also be busy managing students so they maintain social distancing in the classroom.”
Schilling said teachers also can’t be expected to teach all day and turn around and spend several more hours working with students learning from home.
Bruce Buruma, director of community relations with Red Deer Public Schools, said the district is already hiring extra daytime cleaning staff, and cleaning supplies have been ordered. Classrooms will be rearranged to allow for social distancing.
“There will be likely some financial challenges that go with this, but we have a responsibility to make sure that teaching continues, and we’re going to make sure the health and safety of students and staff are paramount,” Buruma said.
He said Alberta Education has been very clear that additional funding isn’t expected.
“We understand the government has a lot financial pressures. They are the ones that are going to have to make the decisions and we will advocate for what we need, to make sure that we’re providing the best education for students, but also making sure they are safe and healthy.”
He said more than 90 per cent of families want students back in school, according to a district survey.
“We’re all preparing for a return to normal. That’s what Minister LaGrange has suggested we will be doing, so we’re waiting for that announcement.”