'The social distancing isn't going to work': Alberta teachers, students consider back-to-school plans

Students and teachers have been told that come September, they'll be face to face, but some say they're worried about the realities of in-person learning during a pandemic.

Student fears being 'stuck in a room with more than 30 people'

Some students and teachers heading back to the classroom this fall are worried about the province's re-entry plan. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Students and teachers have been told that come September, they'll be face-to-face, but some say they're worried about the realities of in-person learning during a pandemic.

The Alberta government announced Tuesday that students will be resuming in-person classes under Scenario 1 of the three possible scenarios that were announced in June. 

The government's guide for school re-entry under Scenario 1 has several specific recommendations, including cohorting classes where possible, implementing social distancing techniques, staggering breaks and class times as well as drop-off and pickup times and locations, and implementing assigned seating on school buses.

'Isn't going to work'

"I feel like it's a really bad idea," said 14-year-old Edmonton student Ella Schaloske. 

Schaloske said her school is home to nearly 2,000 students and staff.

"The social distancing isn't going to work," she said. 

"And the government said that masks aren't mandatory, which is a complete mistake because it's been proven to stop the spread."

The soon-to-be Grade 9 student said she's also concerned that Scenario 1 doesn't put a cap on the number of people in a room, whereas under Scenario 2 the cap is set at 15 people.

"The biggest class I've ever been in was 40 kids, and that was my Spanish class last year," she said. "And usually in my classes there are about 35 [kids]."

Schaloske said in her experience, there usually aren't even enough tables or desks for each student to have their own.

 "It's usually four to a table and you are really close and it's smaller than a picnic table," she said.

University classes remain online

Calgary area teacher Lisa Bush said she was surprised by the province's decision, especially since her husband — who is a local university professor — has been told all his classes will be online in the fall.

"I would like to see — for the health and safety of Calgary — consistency between our educational systems," she said. 

And, as a mother, she's concerned too.

"If it's not safe for university students to freely go back to campus go back to classes how is it then safe for my five year old daughter to go back to school?"

Schaloske said she's feel a lot more safe going back to school in the fall if she knew she wouldn't be stuck in a room with more than 30 people.

"I feel like they could try a rotating day system just to keep half the students at home for half the week and they would do it online learning on those days and then half the students are in the school," she said. 

Schaloske said she knows learning in school is more efficient.

"There's something about learning in a space that's meant for learning. At home, I work in my bedroom and I just look around and I'm like I'd like to read a book or I could scroll through Instagram," she said. 

But, she's very aware of the risks.

"A lot of people were excited [at first] and then when questions were brought up they started to fear for the safety of each other and themselves," she said. 

'There are so many questions'

Bush said while she understands COVID-19 is uncharted territory, and there is no perfect solution, the new guidelines will force some teachers to make difficult decisions.

"There are so many questions that aren't answered right now and that is absolutely one of them — how teachers are going to stay healthy throughout the year without having to take a sick day every   time they have a sniffle or a cough but yet still doing what they need to do to ensure that they are healthy and safe and not endangering any of their students?" she said.

Schaloske said she's also worried about how teachers are going to be able to enforce social distancing.

"Honestly I think that teachers are going to have a problem. They're going to be trying to keep themselves safe because they're going to have to be there every day and being a teacher is a strenuous job," she said.

"But I think they're going to have a harder time because they're going to have to stop using Chrome Books probably, and it will be harder to get everyone to stay in their seats and limit walking around."

'At least make masks mandatory'

With provincial numbers on the rise (642 new cases over the last five days), Schaloske wishes the government would take an entirely different approach.

"I think ideally everyone should go back into lock down, because in March when we were in lock down there was only about 20 cases a day," she said.

"Now we're about at 120 new cases each day. And [in-person classes] is not something that seems like a good idea right now. At least make masks mandatory, I think that would be the minimum."

Bush said she's hopeful to see more resources and support for teachers from the province by September.

"Whether that means funding or hiring teachers — I would love to see as much resources put into our education system as possible to make sure that our teachers and our students have a healthy school year next year," she said.

"I don't think in retrospect that is something you would ever regret as a province."


  • This article originally contained an estimate that it would take 67 football fields for everyone at the school to stay six feet apart. In fact, it would take approximately one football field.
    Jul 23, 2020 2:00 PM MT


Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at


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