As 'back to school' gets closer, parents and teachers demand more information
CALGARY -- Like most parents, Paul Bonnefin says being suddenly being forced to teach his children at home when schools were closed by the pandemic earlier this year wasn't easy.
“We got a whole bunch of work to do each week,” he said. "We got through some of that, but the distraction of other things around the house …"
Bonnefin says he hopes schools will reopen to students this fall, though he's not sure what that will look like.
“If they do go back to the classroom … what will classrooms will be like, will there be hand sanitizations, will they be wearing masks?" he asked.
The province has laid out three possible scenarios for a return to school.
Students could return full-time, with some new sanitization precautions, or they may split their learning, attending school part-time while also learning at home.
The third scenario sees them staying at home, with parents picking up the bulk of teaching duties.
“It feels like this ministry has put forward small, medium, or large scenarios,” said Barb Silva of the parent advocacy group Support Our Students.
“It’s not very reassuring to parents across the province.”
Some parents and teachers say they need more details about what precautions will be taken to avoid an outbreak — and what will be done if some students contract COVID-19.
The Alberta Teachers Association also says more money should be offered to school boards, to cover the cost of additional cleaning staff and any modifications that may need to be made to classrooms to accommodate distancing rules.
“Class size is a major concern,” said ATA president Jason Schilling.
“When you talk about social distancing your students, keeping them (two metres) apart, how do you do that will a class of 30?"
However, the ATA also says a recent survey of its members found most of them want to return to the classroom.
Sara Austin, with the child advocate group Children First Canada, agrees with that, saying the longer kids are away from teachers and classmates, the more they suffer.
“It’s really taking a toll on their physical and mental health,” she said.
"Everything from increased levels of depression and anxiety, let alone delays to their education.”
The provincial education department says it’s tentatively planning for the first scenario — a return to school full-time, with added precautions — but that it is also basing all decisions on the advice from health authorities and school boards.