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Overcrowded, understaffed classrooms under fire at school board meeting

Erin Perkins
By Erin Perkins
September 17th, 2012

Several concerned parents and a teacher told the Boundary School District 51 trustees their staffing issues have got to change at Christina Lake Elementary and Beaverdell Elementary schools during a regular board of education meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 11.

Less than two weeks into the 2012-2013 school year and SD51 is facing unforeseen challenges with enrollment numbers.

While the district as a whole has lost 81.8 full-time equivalent students since this time last year, Christina Lake Elementary School has seen the largest increase in the district of 11 students.

There are now 101 students at CLES, up from the 90 who started in the school in September 2011. While their numbers are up, a teacher was moved from the school this year, leaving the school down a teacher.

Two of the four split grade classes have over 30 students — the Grade 4/5 with 30 students and the Grade 6/7 with 31 students.

Parent Erin Mills has a daughter in the Grade 4/5 class and a son in the Kindergarten/Grade 1 class at Christina Lake Elementary School.

“We have some very concerned parents and concerned students, believe it or not,” Mills told the board. “We have class sizes around 30 and I realize that in other districts that maybe that’s not bad, or it could be worse. But we have gone from class sizes of 16 to 31. And we’re dealing with an age of students — we talked about it with the middle school — they need that attention and they need that time. They are starting puberty and the complexities that come with that. I don’t know if one teacher with 31 kids can really provide them with what they need. I would hope that you will take that into consideration.”

“I hope the school district is looking at ways to reduce the class sizes at Christina Lake,” Boundary and District Teachers’s Association president Norm Sabourin told the board. “Yes I realize there is only one class over 30, but two intermediate classes with 31 and 30, a little school, they are bulging and I hope you are looking at options.”

Beaverdell Elementary teacher fears for safety working alone

At Beaverdell Elementary, the teaching assistant (TA) position for the 2012/2013 was removed due to budget cuts, leaving one teacher and no support staff at the one-room 11 student school.

Parent Advisory Council (PAC) president Michelle Kreitz and teacher Jennifer Eaton drove from Beaverdell to Grand Forks to have their views known during the regular board meeting.

“It came to my attention shortly before the first day of school that there was only going to be the teacher in the classroom. I think that is completely unsafe and unacceptable to myself and to other parents,” said Kreitz, who has two children in Beaverdell Elementary.

She cited how three years ago the board had told parents they had no intention of removing the TA position from the school due to safety issues.

“We’re wondering why that is an option now?,” she asked. “We have many concerns, three of them being the quality of education our children get, the safety for the kids and the teacher and the accountability for the teacher and the students. With such a diverse range of students, we were wondering how that would affect each child’s needs. Who will suffer for the funding shortfall? The student who needs extra help or the student who does well and will be left alone more often.”

During her presentation, Kreitz read an email letter written by Eaton about the challenges she is facing as the lone teacher with no breaks and no emergency plan in place.

“On a personal level with the vast grade range in a very rural setting, Beaverdell Elementary is a difficult assignment,” read Kreitz from Eaton’s letter. “It was thought that I could handle it because I had been at (Beaverdell School) before and had a couple of really successful years. However, that was with the help of the teacher’s assistant. It is a pretty big burden to have been assigned this position without any help. I am uncomfortable with leaving the students alone without having another adult pop in and check on them while I’m in the office, dealing with other students in a different room, in the washroom or any event where I am out of line of vision of the classroom. What if a child decided to dash or hurt another student or damage expensive equipment? I am concerned for the safety of the students should something happen to myself or one of the students that needs to be dealt with in an emergency.”

Eaton continued on to illustrate how phone calls, late students, deliveries and other office duties interupt her teaching.

“It is a really big deal to have that extra person at our school and I hope you can all see that and that we can have someone else at the school immediately,” said Kreitz.

Norm Sabourin, Boundary District Teachers’ Association president, has already been in contact with WorkSafeBC on behalf of Eaton.

“I was quite flabergasted that a worker is allowed to work in this type of isolation,” said Sabourin after the presentation Kreitz made to the board. “I can’t believe that even based on WorkSafe regulations that the board would even go with this anyway, that you wouldn’t think about the safety issues and have another adult.”

He went onto say that WorkSafeBC requires a hazard assessment and plan be done with the employee, and one was not done in this situation.

“So in effect, the board is in contravention of WorkSafeBC regulations and I was informed all it would take is one phone call asking a question and there would be an investigation potentially,” said Sabourin. “I just want something done.”

Sabourin suggested a temporary TA be put in place immediately until an official posting is put into effect.

I think it is crazy to allow this to go on and leave Jennifer (Eaton) in a fairly risky position.

Because it is a personnel issue, the board will be meeting in private and will then get back to the school with their results, said board chair, Teresa Rezansoff.

“We’ll get to it as quickly as we can,” assured Rezansoff.

As for Christina Lake Elementary, the district administration is working with the school to find funding to have some extra help brought in.

Categories: Education

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