The School District 70 administration office in Port Alberni. AV NEWS FILE PHOTO

Alberni teachers’ union calls for smaller class sizes in SD70-Pacific Rim

Lessening classroom density is best use of federally-released COVID-19 funds, says union president

Alberni Valley teachers are calling on School District 70 to do more to prevent COVID-19 infection in schools following a federal funding announcement.

Roughly $242.4 million in one-time funding has been earmarked for B.C.’s school reopening plan, with half to arrive in September and the rest in January. Provincial education minister Rob Fleming stated on Thursday, Sept. 3 that the funds will be allocated to school districts based on enrolment numbers.

School districts will determine how to use the money they receive, to expand health and safety measures, purchase more personal protective equipment and increase capacity for remote learning.

Cindy Hewitt, the president of the Alberni District Teachers’ Union, is calling on the local school district to use their share of the federal funding to prevent potential COVID-19 outbreaks by reducing the size of classes and classroom density and to ensure all students have the option to access remote learning.

“Parents and teachers in Port Alberni are looking to the school district to ensure every possible precaution has been taken to ensure schools are as safe as they can be,” said Hewitt in a press release. “Now that there is new money available, the school district should take action to make sure physical distancing is possible in our schools. That means reducing class sizes and investing in an accessible and equitable remote learning option.”

In the press release, Hewitt said the hiring of more teachers should be a key priority, along with establishing accessible remote learning options, to help reduce school density and class sizes.

“Many classes in SD70 have been organized in a way where 20 to 30 students will be together in a classroom, which makes physical distancing difficult and unrealistic,” she added. “The teachers’ union is seeking changes that will allow students and staff to adhere to most effective layer of protection: fewer faces and bigger spaces.”

On Aug. 26, Fleming directed school districts and independent schools to contact all families in their catchments to confirm if they planned for their child to attend school classes in September or if they would need remote learning options.

“It’s time for the Board of Education to get moving, find out which families need that remote option, and get the additional supports in place to make it happen,” said Hewitt. “We also need to see some quick action in our schools to end the crowding that has too many students in classrooms with poor ventilation.”

School District 70 released its Stage 2 Restart Plan on Aug. 26, with only two options for learning: at home or in class. Alberni Valley in-class learners will be returning to school on Sept. 10 and 11 for staggered student orientations.

— with files from Ashley Wadhwani

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