Albertan parents question class sizes, student supports with start of new school year

Click to play video: 'Alberta NDP says UCP has ‘dramatically underfunded education’'
Alberta NDP says UCP has ‘dramatically underfunded education’
Over the next week, thousands of Calgary students will head back to school. Many parents are losing sleep and concerned about growing class sizes. As Global’s Craig Momney reports, some experts believe classrooms could see between 30 and 40 children – Aug 30, 2023

The first week of school for many students in Calgary and area is underway, a time that can be very exciting but also very nerve-wracking for many families.

Some Albertans are worried about the state of schools and classrooms for the 2023/2024 school year.

“We know lots of our kids are in classes that are up to 30 or even 40 kids at a time,” said Wing Li, communications director for Support Our Students Alberta. “They’re not getting the optimal attention that they would need right from the teacher.”

Dustin Horlacher, an Airdrie dad with two kids, worries about how his kids will be managed in classes with so many students.

“Carson (my son) has ADHD and (autism spectrum disorder). Unfortunately for Carson, his classmates, and thousands of other students, there’s just not enough staff to adequately support our kids,” Horlacher said.

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“I really don’t know how any teacher copes with a class of 28 kids, where students all have different needs, not to mention the extra attention that my son often needs. Carson’s teacher might have to stop multiple times throughout the class to redirect Carson. And that ultimately disrupts the class.”

Horlacher is stressed about how there is no one to support his son during certain times of the day.

“It’s heartbreaking that for us every day, we send Carson to the school with a lunch, but there’s nobody to sit down and help him eat it. He often goes home with an uneaten lunch almost every day.”

Horlacher is upset not only for his children and other students but he is upset on behalf of the teachers as well.

“Schools (are) at 110 per cent capacity,” Horlacher said.

“I honestly have no idea how teachers can do what they do. And I applaud them all for doing it and I can’t thank them enough for doing it. It takes a special kind of person to teach our kids. I truly hope we can get them the support they need and deserve so they can all help the children be as successful as possible. Our children and teachers just deserve better.”

Li said that the less staff means fewer students are getting the support they need and because of this “more students (are falling) through the cracks naturally.”

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Li added that not only are there fewer staff and larger classes but there are also more individual needs of students that teachers will have to manage.

“We’re talking about not just overcrowded in numbers but overcrowded in terms of complexity. (They’ve) got the teacher running 10, 12 different programs, or in some cases, up to like 18, different IPPs, which are individual learning programs for students,” Li said. “And that becomes really untenable, to juggle all of the different learning programs.”

The Calgary Board of Education wrote in a statement that it has increased its budget by $130 million and said it is focused on addressing the needs of the projected 138,000 students. The board added that it anticipates increasing its full-time staff by 774 positions and of that, 97 per cent will directly deliver and support teaching.

The board said it expects class sizes to stay approximately the same as the 2022/2023 school year.

“Schools and our system are accustomed to making adjustments at the start of every school year, and over the course of the year, to account for ongoing fluctuations in enrolment. Principals work together with Area Education Directors to review class sizes and points of pressure within their schools. This school-based monitoring allows for decisions to be made in the prioritization of funds that may need to address pressures that may occur due to enrolment increases.”

The Calgary Catholic School District said in a statement to Global News that “the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) recognizes the benefits and the challenges of smaller class sizes. Space consideration in each school and the composition of classrooms are among the factors we continuously review when allocating available financial and human resources to best support every child’s unique learning needs.”

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The CCSD added that Alberta Education stopped reporting class sizes in the 2020/2021 school year.

Rakhi Pancholi, the Alberta NDP education critic and the MLA for Edmonton Whitemud, said the issue is due to “dramatically underfunded education.”

“For four years, the UCP government has dramatically underfunded education. This was the case even while the number of students in Alberta grew every single year, the cost of inflation hit our school system hard, and the complexity of students’ needs in classrooms increased.”

Pancholi said the NDP wants to ensure “that every child receives high quality, relevant, inclusive education in a school where they feel safe and supported.”

Pancholi said that the UCP made promises before the election to help solve these issues but dropped those promises after the election concluded.

“Weeks after the election, Danielle Smith dropped her promise to Albertans to hire 650 teachers and 1,375 educational assistants and replaced it with some vague language and the education ministers mandate letter around ‘exploring incentives’ but teacher retention is equally important. And that begins with making sure teachers know their work and professionalism is valued and respected.”

Alberta’s Education Minister, Demetrios Nicolaides, responded in a statement to Global News.

“We are working hard to keep up with enrolment pressure by increasing funding and building new schools. More specifically, we have increased funding by over 5 per cent and have provided targeted funding to help hire up to 3,000 additional educational staff,” Nicolaides said.

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“My mandate letter from Premier Smith calls upon me to continue to significantly expand school builds in our growing communities.”

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