The B.C. government is aiming for students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 to be back to school full-time in September – but parts of the classroom will likely look much different as part of the “new normal.”
On Wednesday (July 29), Education Minister Rob Fleming and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry unveiled the province’s education plan amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with Sept. 8 as the return-to-school date for the 2020-21 school year.
Students will be organized into “learning groups,” made up of a consistent group of staff and students in order to reduce the risk of transmission.
Students will be assigned to groups of up to 60 for younger grades and 120 for high school, and does mean that some middle and high school students will see some changes to their daily schedules.
Staff and students will also be required to assess themselves daily for symptoms of the novel coronavirus. If any student or staff member has even mild symptoms, they will be told to stay home.
The province will also be giving $45.6 million in funding to schools to ensure adequate and regular cleaning of high-contact services, as well as increasing the number of available hand-hygiene stations and optional masks.
Most of the other details will be left up to individual school districts, with the province providing general operational guidelines.
Schools in B.C. shuttered doors in March as daily case counts began to increase, requiring parents to home-school their kids. Many struggled to balance working from home with helping their children finish the school year.
Meanwhile, teachers had to quickly adapt lesson plans to rely on online assignments and virtual teaching.
The province moved to a hybrid model in June, blending voluntary in-classroom and online curriculum. Roughly 200,000 students attended in-person schooling.
Fleming told reporters that the plan follows ongoing planning with Henry and school trustees and administrators from across B.C., based on teacher and parent feedback.
“We were the only jurisdiction in Canada that brought students back into the classroom provincewide 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,” Fleming said.
Families can expect to hear from their local school district or independent school in the coming weeks with specific plans for how learning groups will be scheduled, as well as updated health and safety guidelines.
Final details will have to be submitted to the ministry and posted online no later than Aug. 26.
B.C.’s top doctor said that she knows how important in-class schooling is for children’s mental health.
“We ask for families and workplaces to continue to be flexible as we come into the fall,” Henry said.
“We’ve put a lot of thoughtful work and consideration into reopening schools this fall and in making sure we re supporting children in ways that keep them, the people who teach them and our communities safe.”
In a statement, the B.C. Teachers Federation said the plan needs “more time and work” before rolling out – specifically through consultation with school districts and local unions.
“If the plan is rushed or too many questions are left unanswered, it won’t be successful,” it read in part. “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.”
Health officials and political leaders have acknowledged that a surge of coronavirus cases in the fall – dubbed the second wave – could possibly foil these plans.
Last week, Premier John Horgan told parents to start thinking about a Plan B but stopped short of offering any specifics.
Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.