For over a week, public school teacher Kristina Bertrand has had an arrangement of paper cut-outs scrawled across her cordoned off lawn. Within the measured-out dimensions of a typical grade one to three classroom, the child sized figures are spaced one metre apart – as per the guidelines set out by our province in its safe reopening plan.
On the outside of the caution-taped area are several make-shift placards, including a quote said by Doug Ford during a news conference on April 28.
The quote reads: “I’m not going to put our children in a crowded classroom. I’m just not going to do it”
Bertrand says she’s waiting to hear from Ford as to why that statement has changed. Since petitioning both Minister of Education Stephen Lecce & Doug Ford, she says she’s only received the typical media responses from the premier. She adds that while she has received some criticism for her display, the support from colleagues and community members has been great.
“Some people are saying that I’m just instilling fear…” says Bertrand. “This is not instilling fear; this is our sad reality that we live in… and it’s important for people, students and parents to be aware of what September holds for us.”
The purpose of the mock-classroom, Bertrand says, is to show the community that the current recommendations for student physical distancing are not enough. When asked what needs to be done, she says the best start would be to reduce class sizes – and she’s not alone in issuing that call.
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario recently made a similar request directly to the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health – requesting the province mandate elementary class sizes to no more than 15 students.
Aside from class sizes, Bertrand is concerned that teachers may not be adequately prepared for the return to school in September. While teachers will be receiving health and safety training, she says she’d rather the government postpone the opening of schools to give teachers the ability to fully protect their students.
“When our students come into our class, we treat them like they’re our own kids – and we try to ensure their safety… but throwing us in after two, three days of health and safety training… it’s totally different than applying that in our classroom.”
As a mother of three, Bertrand says her family has made the decision to keep their eldest daughter, who has asthma, from returning to senior kindergarten in September.
“Like many other parents who have children with underlying health concerns… these options are not conducive to those that have auto-immune disorders or deficiencies.”
Bertrand says that parents who are concerned about their child’s return to school should speak up and let their concerns be known to the provincial government.
“If they have to push back the start of the school year, so be it. I would rather err on the side of caution than have something horrible happen to our youth”.