7 teachers in one class in one week? Alarmed parent says that's too many
A Moncton-area dad worries vague COVID-19 guidelines are putting kids at risk
A Moncton-area parent says he's resigned to his daughter being exposed to more teachers and school staff in her classroom than he considers safe during COVID-19.
Vašek Vlček says his daughter is in contact every week with seven different teachers in her Grade 4 classroom.
And with supply teachers and education assistants in the mix, she has had 25 adults in her classroom at various times between Labour Day and the Christmas break.
Vlček is surprised that's permitted by COVID-19 guidelines, which he calls far too weak.
"These guidelines are just loosely worded and it gives them an option to wiggle themselves out of any commitments to safety," he said.
"Basically we have two degrees of separation from everybody else in the school."
Undefined guidelines open to interpretation
Vlček is also concerned about the impact of his daughter's education with so many different teachers.
But he added the COVID-19 pandemic makes the situation more alarming.
The province's Return to School plan tells district and school administrators to "strive to minimize the number of different teacher(s) and educational assistant(s) that interact with groups of students throughout the day."
Vlček called that wording vague.
"They say 'strive.' Well, what is that? It's not very clear. Is seven 'striving?' I don't believe it is. They can get away with any number."
Vlček's daughter's main classroom teacher is a part-time employee who teaches only in the morning, he said.
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Other teachers, including the school principal, rotate teaching duties in the afternoon on different days, and there are also specialty teachers for music and physical education.
That gives her a total of seven teachers per week. When Vlček counts supply teachers and educational assistants, that gives him a total of 25 different adults who were in the classroom in the first part of the school year.
In an email statement, Anglophone East School District spokesperson Stephanie Patterson said that schools continue to follow the Return to School plan and update their own plans. "The safety of our students remains our priority," she said.
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development spokesperson Tara Chislett would not comment on Vlček's specific case, but said schools are following the plan, which she called "a living document" that evolves with new information.
More than 50 pages of back-and-forth emails
Vlček provided CBC News with more than 50 pages of his email correspondence with officials at Claude D. Taylor School in Riverview, the district and the department.
In a Nov. 26 email, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the number of teachers and staff passing through the girl's classroom "seems excessive." He asked his deputy minister George Daley to get Vlček an answer.
Daley called Vlček, but Vlček says he referred him back to district superintendent Gregg Ingersoll.
In an earlier email on Nov. 1, Ingersoll acknowledged that "there are no limits" in the province's COVID-19 Return to School plan on the number of teachers that can be in a classroom.
Cardy later wrote to Vlček to provide him with generic information on the department's Return to School plan, which he said was based on "trusted sources" at the provincial, national and international levels.
Vlček says he knows it's not realistic for his daughter's class to have only a single teacher, but with the COVID-19 risk, the district should aim for fewer than seven.
He thinks the number is artificially high for administrative reasons and creates exponentially more contacts.
"If you have seven classroom teachers who are going to be in fairly regular need of supply teachers, then reducing the number of classroom teachers is going to automatically, hopefully, reduce the number of supply teachers," he says.
Principal won't respond to further questions, parent told
His other daughter is in Grade 2 and has only three teachers: a main classroom teacher plus a music teacher and a physical education teacher.
He has asked the district for data on what a normal number of teachers is per classroom, but so far hasn't been able to obtain it.
On Nov. 4 Ingersoll told Vlček that the principal at Claude D. Taylor School would no longer be responding to his questions.
"While we are all open to parents expressing their concerns to us, I have told the Principal, who has been very open and collaborative with you, not to provide any further correspondence on this topic as I feel you have exceeded your right to reasonable consultation," he wrote.
Patterson said schools, districts and the province "strive to answer any and all parent questions."
But if dealing with those questions "begins to impact the ability for our schools to focus on student learning and/or impact the positive learning environment, the communication will be redirected away from the school."
Patterson said Ingersoll was not available for an interview Monday because it was the first day back to school after the Christmas break and that made it a busy day.
The district continued to respond to Vlček after Ingersoll's Nov. 4 letter.
Vlček said he's "fairly skeptical" anything will come of his decision to complain publicly.
"I don't think anything will happen with it," he said.
He has contacted the three opposition parties in the New Brunswick legislature to see if they'll raise the issue with the government.