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Teacher in tears

John King
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 16/05) - Just thinking of tearing the colourful collage of paper and posters from her classroom walls at Ecole J.H. Sissons makes Caroline Roux, start to cry.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Ecole J.H. Sissons school principal Paul Bennett takes down a student art piece, Dec. 14. - John King/NNSL photo

"It's easy to say you must tear everything down," said Roux, a French immersion teacher. "It will change how we teach now."

Roux, along with every other teacher at Sissons school, was ordered during a fire inspection In November by the Yellowknife Fire Department, to take down 80 per cent of the paper and posters covering walls throughout the school.

"The background paper is really the culprit," said Sissons school principal Paul Bennett.

Teachers put up a layer of paper on which to tack on posters, student artwork, and a variety of other visuals, said Bennett.

Chucker Dewar, deputy fire chief, had to step in and put a stop to the paper and posters covering walls in classrooms and hallways.

Dewar wasn't surprised to find the paper load, but said the national building code is clear: combustible materials must not exceed 20 per cent of the wall's area.

"There was an incident at Weledeh school about 20 years ago," Dewar said, but no recent example of a fire caused by too much paper on a school wall.

"What happens is it creates a rapid moving fire that outruns the sprinkler heads," Dewar said.

Bernie Van Tighem, NWT Fire Marshal, said the issue has "been around as long as schools have been around."

Educators at Sissons are now looking into different solutions to their dilemma, and with some advice from the fire department, are set to dress up the walls once more.

"It is encouraging us to be creative as professionals and to get the same effect in a simpler way," said Sarah Berry, Sissons assistant principal.

Options include painting the walls with fire- retardant paint, Bennett said, or using fire retardant paper.

But Roux, who phoned several large paint manufacturers, said there really isn't any such thing as "fire retardant paint."

"It's the same paint on appliances and it's really expensive," Roux said.

Teachers are now in a pinch to take the posters down before the Christmas holidays.

"I had this little girl, who's one of my students, asking why I hadn't put any of her pictures on the wall," Roux said. "She just didn't understand."

At a school board meeting last Tuesday, trustees discussed the matter with administration.

"We don't like to see anything taken away from the children, but we must ensure schools are safe," said trustee Terry Brookes.

Board chair Reanna Erasmus said that taking down the posters and paper might not be such a bad idea.

"It can be distracting for students," Erasmus said.