Alberta Premier Jason Kenney suggested teachers help janitors ‘tidy up’ to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in schools
Leading medical experts in the province of Alberta say Premier Jason Kenney’s recent suggestion school teachers should take on custodial duties and assist with deep cleanings to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in schools is “unrealistic.”
During a recent exchange in the Alberta Legislature, NDP MLA Sarah Hoffman asked the premier how he plans to contain a COVID-19 outbreak when large class sizes prevent social distancing.
Kenney suggested teachers could help janitors “tidy up.”
Hoffman asked: “Are teachers expected to take on additional custodian duties in addition to their roles as educators to ensure that spaces are cleaned regularly?”
“We expect all the staff in any workplace to help to tidy up just as we do around here,” Kenney said in his response.
Medical experts are expressing skepticism about Kenney’s idea.
“I’m not certain how the premier expects a teacher to educate, maintain discipline, and monitor the health and safety of that many children and then conduct the thorough disinfecting protocols that will be required,” Canadian Public Health Association Executive Director Ian Culbert told PressProgress.
“Teachers already ‘tidy up’, but keeping a classroom disinfected goes far beyond picking up a few cups and saucers from the Cabinet table,” Culbert added.
University of Alberta medical professor Dr. Tehseen Ladha also noted that it’s “impossible to maintain physical distancing in kids and increased hygiene measures without an investment in resources.”
“I believe the UCP school reentry plan is unrealistic,” Dr. Ladha told PressProgress.
Dr. Kim Kelly, a University of Alberta medical professor, suggested that the “inability to physically distance” poses a greater “risk of transmission” than tidying up.
“Classrooms have been measured and the numbers indicate that a maximum of 15 students can physically distance by 2 metres in a typical Alberta classroom,” Dr. Kelly told PressProgress.
“The UCP indicated that class sizes will stay the same, averaging 30 students per class, which will not allow for adherence to the Chief Medical Officer of Health’s recommendation of maintaining a physical distance of 2 metres from others.”
The Alberta Teachers’ Association warned in June: “There are no common
standards for the extra cleaning that will be required in a school setting — it varies from board to board.”
ATA President Jason Schilling notes that some schools in Alberta lacked full-time janitorial service before the United Conservative Party formed government and, since that time, many school boards have had to use a portion of their reserves to make up for funding freezes.
“Teachers will be busy during the day teaching, preparing lessons and assessing student work,” Schilling told PressProgress. “It is unfair to continually ask teachers to do more with less.”
“Some school boards have reserve fund dollars and some do not, it’s not a central pool that they can all access. They have different reserves based on what they’ve been able to save,” Schilling said.
He added: “Custodial staff have specific training in handling the materials they use in their jobs every day that teachers do not. The support staff are a valuable asset in making sure schools run smoothly and safely.”
“We need their expertise more than ever.”