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BC students expected to return to school in September

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 3:29 PDT, Wed July 29, 2020

Last Updated: 3:47 PDT, Wed July 29, 2020

Most BC students are expected to return to school on Sept. 8 as the province moves to Stage 2 of its education restart plan.

Masks will not be mandatory, but are recommended in some situations where physical distancing is difficult.

“The classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development, and that’s why we are working hard to ensure students can safely spend the next school year with their teachers and classmates,” said Education Minister Rob Fleming. “We were the only jurisdiction in Canada that brought students back into the classroom province-wide before the end of the school year and this has given us valuable information that we are using to develop our plans, ensuring health and safety at schools remain paramount.” 

On the advice of the provincial health officer, students will be organized into learning groups, a consistent group of staff and students. This will reduce the number of people each student or staff member will come into contact with, reducing the risk of transmission and ensuring quicker contact tracing by health authorities.

Learning groups—which do not affect class size—will contain up to 60 people in elementary and middle schools and up to 120 people in secondary schools. Larger high schools with more than 1,500 students may continue with a hybrid learning format to ensure physical distancing is possible.

All boards of education and independent school authorities will continue to be required to implement a suite of health and safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the recently updated guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control.

The province is investing $45.6 million to support school districts and independent schools. This funding will ensure the increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces, an increased number of hand-hygiene stations and the availability of reusable masks upon request, among other safety measures.

Staff and students (or their parents/guardians) must also assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19. If any student or staff member has even mild symptoms, arrangements will be made for that person to return home.

Families will hear from their school district or independent school throughout the summer with updated health and safety guidelines for elementary, middle and secondary schools, as well as learning groups, schedules, enrolment and registration information. Final details will be submitted to the ministry and posted online by school districts on Aug. 26.

“The safety of students and staff is paramount and government will continue to make science-based decisions, following the expert advice of Dr. Henry and her public health team,” said Fleming.

But the BC Teachers’ Federation expressed concern about the restart plan, and president Teri Mooring said the announcement “misses the mark on several critical components.”

“The reopening needs to be safe, careful, and get the buy-in of teachers, support staff, parents, and students,” said Mooring. “If the plan is rushed or too many questions are left unanswered, it won’t be successful. Bringing everyone back all at once, even with some version of a cohort model, on the first day after the Labour Day long weekend, is too much too soon given the many unanswered questions in today’s announcement.

“Based on what the government released today, their plan isn’t ready yet. It needs more work.”

For more information on the K-12 education restart plan, click here.

To read the BC Teachers’ Federation response, click here.

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