Abbotsford parents upset as district gets cohort exemption to maximize class sizes at elementary school

Classes and cohorts shuffled after division eliminated at King Traditional elementary school

Parents at an Abbotsford elementary school are upset after the Abbotsford school district was granted permission to expand cohorts in order to maximize class sizes for financial reasons.

In a message posted on its Facebook page, the PAC for King Traditional elementary described a “huge shuffle of classes” at the school last week because the district eliminated a division after lower-than-expected enrolment. Parents say they were told that the move was a “best practice” and made for financial reasons.

That led not only to a reorganization of classes, but reportedly also the shuffling and expansion of cohorts, according to PAC communications chair Josephine Leonard, who wrote the message.

She said the elimination of one class resulted in a series of cascading adjustments across the school, with split grades used to maximize the number of students in each class. Leonard was also told the district received approval to expand the maximum cohort size from 60 to 66 children.

The Ministry of Education confirmed late Sunday that the district had been given an exemption to cohort rules. An earlier statement by the ministry said: “They are working with their local health authority and Medical Health Officer to ensure any adjustments to the size of their learning groups – in a select number of schools – are consistent with the K-12 health and safety guidelines. Based on this review, the district may seek an exception to the cohort size, if it is safe to do so.”

Such adjustments have been rare across the province. Only three other districts have sought exemptions to learning groups in schools.

The PAC is trying to pressure the district to reverse course and has urged parents to email district administrators and board trustees.

“While the district claims this to be ‘best practice’ in maximizing the budget, we were also told that the district would have the best interest of our kids and teachers in mind from a public health perspective,” the PAC’s Facebook message says.

The PAC say that, as Abbotsford’s school district has been making class sizes as large as possible, other districts have used additional funding to reduce class sizes and hire teachers.

FROM 2016: Average class sizes in Abbotsford among largest in province

Leonard said larger class sizes not only increase contact between students, but also increase the number of kids each teacher is responsible for – and has contact with. Leonard is a noon-hour supervisor and said she has been “very pleased” with how teachers are gently urging students to reduce physical contact between each other and guiding them through the array changes this fall.

“The teachers have been amazing,” she said.

But Leonard said the larger class sizes run contrary to public health messaging to parents. School districts around B.C. have been given millions of dollars to respond to challenges linked to COVID-19. Leonard wants to know how the Abbotsford school district is spending that money.

KTES parent Nicole Fraser told The News the expansion of cohorts has reduced parents’ trust.

“Parents made the difficult decision to send their children back to school based on a very specific set of safety measures that were promised to us by our government and that our district promised to carefully implement,” parent Nicole Fraser wrote in a message to The News.

“It’s easy to state, ‘I want to remind everyone that the measures we have in place are ones that are set by the PHO; we will continue to follow their direction’ when you are bending the measures to fit your budget needs.”

The school board is scheduled to meet Tuesday.

The News asked on Sept. 11 for enrolment numbers, and although a spokesperson promised to share the figures the following week, they were never provided. When The News followed up, a spokesperson said the numbers would be provided at the board meeting, which can be watched online.

The News has asked the Abbotsford School District for comment.

The News has also asked Fraser Health about approved cohort sizes in Abbotsford. This story will be updated when a response is received.

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