Posted on Aug 11, 2020
MAKESHIFT CLASSROOM MAKES IT CLEAR PHYSICAL DISTANCING IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT MORE FUNDING FOR TEACHERS, ADDITIONAL SPACE
EDMONTON - Alberta’s NDP Opposition joined teachers in a makeshift classroom Tuesday to demonstrate that maintaining proper physical distancing in schools will be impossible without more funding from Jason Kenney and the UCP for additional teachers, support staff and physical space.
The classroom, set up by the NDP in the Edmonton Federal Building, attempted to fit 30 spaces for students in a standard-sized elementary classroom (defined as about 860 square feet of usable space by Alberta Infrastructure). At best, it was determined that 18-20 spaces could safely fit in the classroom with two metres of spacing and that’s without accounting for any whiteboards, a teacher’s desk, bookshelves, coat racks and so on.
To date, Jason Kenney and the UCP have not provided additional operational funding to hire teachers and support staff nor has the Government taken any steps to secure additional space for classrooms this fall.
“The bottom line is there’s no way to safely fit 30 students in one classroom with proper physical distancing measures in place,” said NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman. “We have called for a cap of 15 students in classrooms in our alternative school reopening plan. The UCP has claimed such a move is impossible, but it’s been done in other jurisdictions.
“This Government fired more than 20,000 educational staff with a single Tweet at the onset of the pandemic but now claim they can’t rehire those individuals. They have handed over billions to big, profitable corporations but refuse to invest an additional dime in keeping students, teachers and school staff safe.”
Hoffman noted the NDP’s alternative opening plan also includes a recommendation to work with municipalities and other organizations to secure additional classroom space during the pandemic.
“We have empty university campuses, libraries, recreational centres and so on that could be used to help spread students out,” Hoffman said. “This UCP Government waited for so long to act, knowing full well school starts in September. Now, they claim that securing additional space for students is impossible but they haven’t even bothered to pick up the phone and ask.”
Renee Englot sent a picture of her junior high classroom to NDP Leader Rachel Notley. Englot’s current classroom is set up for 31 students and she expects as many as 35 this fall, in a smaller space than the one presented by the Opposition. She joined in on Tuesday’s press conference to raise awareness of the challenges
“I worry that students, and the public, have a false impression about what school is going to look like in September because the government keeps using terms like ‘physical distancing’. It is impossible to physically distance without a cap on class size. My students are going to walk in on the first day and say ‘I thought we were spreading out.’ For some of them their anxiety will spike and I expect many of them won’t be back on day two,” Englot said.
Heather Quinn, President of Edmonton Public Teachers Local 37, said teachers like Englot across the city and right across the province are facing impossible spacing situations as they prepare to reopen this fall.
““Edmonton Public Teachers are anxious to see schools reopening. They want to be back in the classrooms with their students. They miss their students. That’s why they got into this profession. But they also have grave concerns about how this must be done, in terms of health and safety for students and staff,” Quinn said.
“This government has made it quite clear that they are unwilling to listen to key stakeholders to develop a safe re-entry plan for schools in September. I am concerned about the safety of all educational workers, students, families and communities. This minister has acted as if school re-entry is business as usual. However, it’s anything but. If we get this wrong, there is enormous potential for harm at four levels, to students, families, teachers and staff, and the communities we all live in.”
The NDP continues to call on the UCP Government to provide additional funding to lower class sizes and implement the 15 recommendations in its alternative school reopening plan, which can be found at www.albertandpcaucus.ca/.
On Page 110 of Alberta Infrastructure’s Technical Requirements document for Alberta Schools Alternative Procurement school construction, classroom size specifications on state “The Contractor shall ensure that the design for the classrooms (referred to as “classrooms” in this Section 4.10) within the Modular Classrooms has a useable area of 80.0 m2.” or 861 sq.ft: