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LETTER: Catholic school board 'misrepresenting reality,' union leader says

'To say class sizes have gone down is not accurate,' says Kent MacDonald
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BradfordToday welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected]. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is from Kent MacDonald, president of Simcoe Muskoka Elementary Catholic Teachers, in response to a story titled 'Catholic school board manages to reduce class sizes through restructuring' published on Oct. 2. 

I am responding to the recent article posted on BarrieToday: Catholic school board manages to reduce class sizes through restructuring.

Administrators take a closer look at class size and may rearrange some students to create the most efficient configurations of students, space and teacher resources is not really accurate.

Administrators get told by their superintendent whether they need to collapse a class (or more) or if they are receiving additional staff based on enrolment. It all comes down to numbers. Principals — as caring and supportive as they are — don’t get to choose efficiency, rather they are directed to reconfigure.

COVID has not impacted this process at all. The same class-size requirements — whether ministry or collective agreement — are in place. To say class sizes have gone down is not accurate. 

Once teachers from each school were removed to be placed in the Virtual School (VS) classes were reorganized from where they were scheduled/planned in June. Therefore, the class sizes have remained the same as they have in the past.

As for class sizes, they are based on board-wide averages, if there is a Grade 5/6 with 20 students, there could be a corresponding junior class in the board of 30, to arrive at an average of 25. The ministry requirement for junior and intermediate grades is 24.5 on a board-wide average. 

However, classes could increase to 32 plus one. A class may increase to 33 in no more than three per cent of total classes.

The reference to meeting the obligations of the Ministry of Labour and health unit has zero effect on class size. Class sizes are the same, the teacher needs to configure their classroom to try and create space (but nowhere near two metres) for students. Access to hallways, bathrooms, etc., needs to be managed, but class sizes have not changed to reflect those requirements.

8.5 new hires came from collective bargaining the central terms of our contract. Those jobs were available to be posted in early July, but the board has waited until now to post, etc., and claim they are reducing class size. The other new hires come from increased enrolment throughout the board. 

Pauline Stevenson was wrong when she said the board-wide average in primary grades is 20. If that was the case then why do we have more than that in the classrooms? The hard cap is 23. For the primary grades the cap is 23 students, but at least 90 per cent of classes in any board must have 20 or fewer students.

As for the kindergarten class size — which does not apply to the primary class-size cap — it is based on a 13:1 student to adult ratio. Furthermore, any split kindergarten (SK/1) only the kindergarten portion of the grade counts towards the average — in essence it is considered a grade on its own. 

Therefore, if there is a SK/1 of 24, but 12 are SKs, the board is able to count only the 12 towards the board-wide average. You can imagine how that would affect the average. You see larger classes closer to 30 — and in some cases over 30 — in some schools.

The board is misrepresenting the reality that is present in our schools, and that is a disservice to your readership

Kent MacDonald
Simcoe Muskoka Elementary Catholic Teachers, president