Parents want to know how schools will achieve social distancing during the pandemic in Alberta’s busy classrooms.
On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced that this fall, Alberta’s 750,000 kindergarten to Grade 12 students will return to classrooms as a result of consultations with school boards, superintendents, parents and teachers.
The provincial guide to school re-entry advises two-metre physical distancing between desks, and the greatest possible spacing when two metres is not possible.
“If we’re cramming these students in a classroom, how are we honouring social distancing and safety? We’re not,” said Brandi Rai, president of the Alberta School Councils’ Association.
“We have heard repeatedly that social distancing is one of the ways that you mitigate risk. Social distancing is not going to be possible in many of the schools across the province.”
She said the association supports the autonomy of local school boards, but believes the guidelines from the province may not be providing enough direction.
“Social distancing when possible. Is that clear direction? Or should it have said social distance must be maintained, and here are the class sizes that we suggest? And here’s the additional funding to get to those class sizes.”
Rai said it is also the responsibility of school boards to be consulting and collaborating with parents on safety measures, not just informing them.
Chad Erickson, superintendent with Red Deer Public Schools, said the district is working on a play book for re-entry that will be ready in the early part of August.
“Our plan is to share those thoughts with parents as we survey them again to see if they’re comfortable with their kids coming back to school, and our staff as well,” Erickson said.
He said right now, the district is looking at removing extra furniture in elementary classrooms to give students more space, as well as staggering recess times and entrances to schools.
But turning other spaces into classrooms would impact access to optional classes, like music or physical education, which are important for the mental health and wellness of students, said Erickson.
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools has sent out a notice to parents outlining safety measures it will take, which includes physical distancing marking both inside and outside; hand sanitizer in every classroom and student spaces; extra cleaning of high-touch surfaces; protective screens to be placed at front entries of schools and hand sanitizers at every entrance; purchasing of personal protective equipment for all staff and disinfectant supplies for all classrooms; and water fountains covered for water bottles only.
Acting superintendent Kathleen Finnigan said funding is always a concern, but said money provided for capital projects at the beginning of June, and greater flexibility for operations and maintenance, helps with COVID-19 costs.
The division will survey parents in August to find out which students are returning to class.
Finnigan said a previous survey showed that parents wanted students back in class, but exact numbers are needed to plan for September.
The key is working as a team that includes the parents, students and educators, and supporting each other, such as when education went online in March, she said.
“We were so concerned about one another. You saw the school parades. You saw the beautiful messages online,” Finnigan said.
She said successful re-entry will start with parents assessing their children’s health before they head off to class. While in school, classes will stay together and move together to help track infections if they occur.
“What’s number one is we’re all keeping each other healthy and safe,” Finnigan said.