Physical distancing concerns abound days before Alberta school restart

CALGARY — Less than four days before students and teachers head back to the classroom, many Albertans are still worried about the province’s school re-entry plan. 

The largest of those concerns may sound familiar.

“We’ve had a well-documented class size problem in this province for years and the pandemic has amplified and exasperated the problem,” Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) President Jason Schilling said. “We have students and staff going back into school under the rules of social distancing that they can not apply in their classrooms.”

Schilling is one of thousands worried Alberta schools cannot accommodate provincial health guidelines.

When students return — many on Tuesday — physical distancing will be considered paramount.

But a look inside some classrooms shows it’ll be next to impossible to stay the recommended two metres away from others.

As they collected welcome packages Friday, two Calgary high school students said they’re concerned.

“The people in the groups and clustering together – that could, in my opinion, become a big issue,” one said.

Another told CTV News that “it’s going to be definitely stressful on everyone.”

The lack of space will mean a lot of time spent wearing face coverings.

Thursday, the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) tweaked its mask recommendations, saying students K to 12 can remove their coverings while within their cohort groups.

That rule could become complicated in Calgary’s public schools, many of which have up to 40 students in a single room.

“We know that there will be challenges, but our plans that are in place (are) also flexible,” CBE Educational Director Darlene Unruh told CTV News. “There will be changes to how learning looks this year, but learning will continue to take place.”

The CBE says roughly 17 per cent of its students are signed up for its Hub online learning.

For everyone else, most schools are staggering start dates and times next week.

Schilling said “province-wide,” he has heard many just aren’t ready.

One thing that will aid those schools: Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said Friday most school divisions should have their promised free reusable masks.

It’ll be up to the divisions to give those masks to schools, which will then distribute them to staff and students.

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