Alberta teachers share concerns with province's back-to-school plan

Edmonton educators have mixed reactions to the Alberta government’s plan for students to return to school in September.

Educators say they will do their best, but worry about physical distancing, cleaning costs

Some Edmonton teachers say proper physical distancing will not always be possible when students head back to school in September. (Oksana Kuzmina/stock.adobe.com)

Edmonton educators have mixed reactions to the Alberta government's plan for students to return to school in September.

The plan, announced yesterday, means in-person classes will resume with extra health measures in place, including mandatory hand hygiene and daily screening.

The government has suggested measures to promote physical distancing in schools, such as reorganizing rooms, avoiding large gatherings like assemblies and using floor markers to guide foot traffic. But some teachers are questioning whether physical distancing can work at all, especially with young students or big groups in small classrooms.

"It's just not really physically possible," kindergarten teacher Caitlin Perry said Wednesday in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

The province announced yesterday that kids are going back to school in the fall. But not all parents or teachers are happy about the plan. 10:26

Perry also said she was disappointed in the back-to-school plan from a parent's perspective because COVID-19 cases are rising in Alberta and one of her children is immunocompromised.

No new money for COVID costs

Some teachers are criticizing the plan because it does not allocate any new money for pandemic-related prevention measures.

Jay Procktor, who teaches Grade 2 at Prince Charles School in Edmonton, said most teachers he knows want to return to the classroom, but with supports to reduce the risk of transmission.

"We love what we do and we love children," he said. "It's just that we want to be safe for the kids and for the families."

Schools need more money for things like cleaning products and custodial workers, he said.

Edmonton Public Schools Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks said Tuesday that using reserve funds for that purpose, which Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has suggested, is not acceptable.

Mixed reaction to school relaunch

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10 months ago
There's a mixed reaction to the Alberta government's plan to reopen schools this fall — parents and teachers alike are sharing their thoughts on whether the safety protocols will be enough. 2:10

What if teachers get sick?

Bill Howe, a veteran English teacher who works at Edmonton Public Schools' district office but plans to return to in-classroom teaching, said he worries school districts lack the resources to hire enough replacement teachers if staff get sick.

"It's pretty common to see sickness levels go up in September and early October anyway, but now we have no way of knowing whether those are symptoms of COVID-19," he said.

With everyone "on edge" and worried about spreading the virus, more teachers than usual could be calling in sick, he said.

"It doesn't seem that there is a contingency plan."

Howe said he knows teachers in the 65+ age group and those with pre-existing medical conditions who are panicked because they have a higher risk of getting seriously ill after contracting COVID-19.

Colin Aitchison, press secretary to the education minister, said in an email that it will be school authorities' responsibility to find accommodations if teachers contract COVID-19, "just as they would if a teacher got sick with the flu or another illness."

'Teachers are a resilient bunch'

Though Neil Korotash, a high school teacher in Morinville, Alta., said he shares many educators' concerns about funding and still has questions about the plan, he supports most of it.

Physical distancing will not always be possible, he said, but teachers will follow health officials' advice and do their best to reduce the risk of infection in other ways.

Recognizing that some students might be staying home throughout the fall, Korotash is busy preparing lesson plans for both in-school and online learners. Preparing extra material and modifying classes will be challenging, he said, but teachers have more than a month to get ready.

"Teachers are a resilient bunch," he said. "I think we'll make do the best we can, given the circumstances."


Madeleine Cummings is a digital associate producer who produces stories for CBC Edmonton's website and its afternoon radio show, Radio Active.


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