NDP, ATA call on province to explore using public facilities as makeshift classrooms during pandemic
CALGARY -- NDP Education Critic Sarah Hoffman is calling on the provincial government to work with municipalities and identify public spaces, both indoor and outdoor, for use by school authorities. The temporary classrooms could be created within places of worship, community centres, libraries and recreational facilities.
"We're in unusual times and we really do believe that it's up to the government to roll up their sleeves, get to work and acquire some additional spaces," she said. "Even in the small town I lived in, we had a seniors centre, drop-in rec centre for youth, had an agricultural society building and three churches."
She said the NDP's back-to-school plan involves hiring a lot more teachers, to allow for smaller class sizes.
"Total budget costing - and we've broken it down for each of the recommendations - is a billion dollars," she said. "About three quarters of that is staffing."
Hoffman joined Bob Cocking of the Alberta Teachers' Association for a demonstration on the safe return of students to school and expressed their concerns regarding class sizes and physical distancing.
"We will be sending students back into schools this fall, in just a week or two, in situations that are far from ideal," said Hoffman, standing in front of a makeshift classroom at the Marda Loop Community Associations on Wednesday.
"We will have fewer teachers, fewer educational support staff and more kids coming to school, which would be bad enough educationally — we know that this is something that we would be advocating for, class sizes of 30 plus — but this year it's not just bad educationally, it's dangerous and a concern for me and many Albertans in terms of public health.
"Those conditions don't comply with what we've been advised to do in terms of physical distancing and limiting the numbers of people in indoor spaces."
Those concerns were echoed by Calgary music teacher Abbey Curzon, who teaches at Pineridge School. She said while other teachers have cohorts of 25-30 students, she will see 300 students, because she teaches music to the entire school.
"I'll do it, because that's who I am, but year I am concerned," Curzon said.
Even smaller cohorts are risky, she added.
"A kindergarten class at my school last year had 28 students," she said. "How do you get 28 four-and-five year olds to play at a distance and avoid touching things?"
The education minister's office issued a statement in reply to the NDP, saying "Today's stunt by the NDP is another example of their attempts to undermine Dr. Hinshaw's expert medical advice and promote their non-plan that they know won't work.
"It is completely unfeasible to cap class size at 15, as they have proposed. In order to accomplish this, Alberta would have to hire 13,000 teachers by September. To put this into persepctive, in 2017 the B.C. lost a court case which required them to hire an additional 3, 700 teachers. It took them two years to do this, and resulted in a Canada-wide teacher shortage.
"This is simply not realistic or possible," it said, "and the NDP knows this. It's time for them to stop trying to undermine Dr. Hinshaw's advice and use fear to try and score political points with their voters."