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Glassed in: Compromise reached on NWSS classroom walls

Glass classroom walls will be frosted up to five feet to help address concerns over privacy and safety.
New NWSS classrooms
Glass-walled classrooms around common spaces at New Westminster Secondary School will be partially frosted for the 2023-24 school year.

Glass walls at New Westminster Secondary School will get more frosting than originally planned.

The New Westminster school district has designated $55,000 in its 2023-24 budget to add frosted glass and motorized blinds in answer to privacy and safety concerns at NWSS.

The high school, which opened to students in 2021, features classrooms with interior glass walls overlooking common spaces.

Those walls have been controversial since the school opened. Students, parents and staff have said the glass walls pose a distraction, a detriment to student privacy and a potential safety concern in the event of a lockdown.

Since the heatwave in mid-May, concerns have also been raised about how the glass is helping to raise the temperature in classrooms at the non-air-conditioned secondary school.

Earlier this month, during budget discussions, the school district announced plans to install a band of frosting across the middle of the interior-facing glass walls — in an effort to help balance those concerns against the design goal of providing an open, transparent learning environment.

The plan didn’t satisfy everyone, however.

At a May 2 operations committee meeting, trustee Danielle Connelly said the band of frosting wouldn’t be enough to provide “privacy of body” for students seated at desks.

During a followup discussion at the May 23 school board meeting, superintendent Karim Hachlaf reported the plan has been revisited.

He said the district has determined that leaving the gap of clear glass at the bottom doesn’t seem to be necessary, so the decision has been made to start the frosting at the bottom of the glass and take it up five feet (five-and-a-half feet from the actual floor).

At that height, he noted, people in the hallway won’t be able to see students seated at their desks.

“While I know this has been a topic where I don’t think it’s possible to please everyone, I am happy that that compromise can meet some of the feedback I hear from different groups, including some discussion at the board table,” Hachlaf said.

He told trustees the goal is to have the frosting installed over the summer so it will be ready for the new school year.

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