Alberta parent receives cease-and-desist letter after raising concerns about combined classroom

It was on the first day of school in September that parents of Grade 2 students at Red Deer Lake School found out their children would be part of a combined class of 47 students.

The Grade 2 class has two teachers as well as two educational assistants in the room.

“We have been parents at the school for 11 years and we had not seen this class structure before, so we were shocked to see it,” said Gillian Colborne, who said her son was not doing well in the combined class environment and ended up pulling him out of the school.

“I just feel disappointed,” Colborne said. “I think that the children would have the best experience if they were supported by all the stakeholders involved.

“I think that they chose to implement the class structure without prior consultation.”

At the end of April, Colborne got a letter from an Edmonton law firm, on behalf of the Foothills School Division, warning her to cease sending all email or other correspondence to anyone that contains false or defamatory comments regarding any Foothills School Division employee.

“It’s over-reactionary,” Colborne said. “People need to discuss what’s going on and what the process is. There was no clear process from the beginning for appeals, or for changes, and we started to find that even as we were going through what we thought were the correct steps and stages, that we were just being sent in sort of a circular direction.”

Colborne figures the letter was sent out because she went to the media with her concerns.

In a statement, the Foothills School Division said “this is an exceptional case and the decision to involve legal counsel was made only after repeated attempts to resolve the situation in another manner.”

“This action was required in order to meet our obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act together with the Alberta School Act after staff reported concerns to the school jurisdiction,” the statement went on to say.

The district said the combined class was started because the two teachers, after careful research and planning, requested the ability to team-teach. It said team-teaching has occurred previously at the school, and the classroom has a removable wall for teaching flexibility.

The Foothills School Division also said Red Deer Lake’s principal has both privately and publicly apologized for the way it communicated the change, and regrets not notifying and consulting with parents in advance.

The school division also said the majority of parents are happy with the combined-classroom setting.

There are no plans to change the class structure this school year.

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