'schools are not required to meet a specific physical distance'
Teachers in Regina’s public schools expect class sizes of up to 30 students during the COVID-19 pandemic — and their union local says plans to replace social distancing with “games” to limit physical contact don’t inspire much confidence.
As PressProgress reported previously, the Saskatchewan government has provided some boards with funding they could use to hire additional teachers — but without clearly mandating smaller classes.
Regina Public Schools’ “Return to School Handbook” reads:
In the Government of Saskatchewan’s Primary and Secondary Educational Institution on Guidelines, schools are not required to meet a specific physical distance between individuals. With students— especially young children maintaining physical distance is challenging. Instead, the focus will be on limiting physical contact.
The Regina plan reads that means, in addition to “removing extra furniture”, teachers will ensure students are “forward-facing”, following a “flow” for “student movement” and encourage “air fives” and “waves” that don’t require physical contact.
Additionally, the plan says staff will “model” safe social interaction with games encouraging students to remain “two arm-lengths apart.”
Whether two arm-lengths is distant enough to ensure safety during the pandemic “depends on how big the kid is,” Regina Public School Teachers’ Association president Jeff Perry told PressProgress.
“Even in a normal year, we might have had crowded classrooms, but to try to get to the social distancing guidelines that are recommended, that virtually can’t happen,” Perry said.
Perry said already “I’ve been contacted by a couple of teachers that have more than 30 (students) in their classroom and are questioning why that’s okay, in this situation, where the government guidelines specifically speak to no more than 30 public or cohort groups anywhere else.”
Further, Perry noted, many of those teaching younger grades would struggle to keep students, some in Kindergarten-Grade Three, forward-facing.
“There are the challenges for our K-3 cohort where the type of pedagogy of our teaching is not forward-facing, separated students. It is an interactive developmental model, and that’s going to be super challenging for teachers,” he said.
Asked about reports some classes could have up to 30 students, a spokesperson for Regina Public Schools told PressProgress: “In a typical year, official enrollment numbers are not available until September 30th – the day when they must be shared with the Ministry of Education.”
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Education did not respond to requests for comment.