Premier John Horgan and the BC Government have announced an optional education plan for students to return to school part-time in June.
Horgan said during a press conference on Friday morning that BC is ready to introduce a gradual increase in returning students to in-class learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The return to in-class learning comes at the same time as several areas of the economy prepare to reopen during ‘phase two’ of BC’s COVID-19 Restart Plan.
“British Columbians have worked hard to flatten our curve. As we move into the next phase of our pandemic plan after the May long weekend, the science shows us that we’re ready to bring students back to school safely on a gradual and part-time basis,” said Premier John Horgan. “This will be welcome news for many families who have struggled to adjust to remote and online learning, and for parents who are going back to work. At every step, we will move slowly and make health and safety our top priority. B.C. has done well…and now is the time to take this next step together.”
Following the guidance from BC health officials, Horgan said that beginning on June 1, students will have the option to return to school on a part-time basis.
“This step will pave the way for a cleaner and smoother reintroduction of full-time classes in September,” said Premier Horgan during his press conference, “It’s our genuine desire to make sure that no one feels pressure to do this.”
Horgan assured students and parents that they wouldn’t open schools if there was a significant health risk, however, reiterated that he understands that parents might be feeling anxious.
According to Rod Fleming, Minister of Education, to make sure schools are safe for students and staff, the number of students in school each day will be reduced.
The government stresses that it will be up to each school district to determine class scheduling and transportation arrangements.
School Districts must inform the Province of their operating plan and individual schools should let students and parents know what the plan is by May 22.
The part-time schedule outlined by the BC Government suggests those in kindergarten to grade 5 go to school half of the normal time (such as alternating days), while grades 6 to 12 will go to school about one day a week.
“School is the place where kids learn how to connect with others and grow together, and it’s incredibly important for students who need extra support to get more time with their teachers and support workers,” said Fleming, “We’ve looked at what measures other jurisdictions are putting in place and we’re taking direction from our provincial health officials, so students, educators and staff know we’re taking every precaution to protect their health and safety.”
In order to create a safe environment for students, the Province has outlined “strict” safety measures that must be followed in order to minimize the risk of transmission:
- Desks spaced apart and avoidance of group gatherings of students in hallways or other common areas
- Regular cleaning of high-contact surfaces like doorknobs, toilet seats, keyboards and desks at least twice a day, and cleaning the school building at least once a day
- Students, educators and staff will be required to clean their hands before entering school property, and there will be more hand-sanitizing and cleaning stations available, with well-stocked supplies
- Staggered drop-offs, lunch and recess breaks, with increased outside time
- Staff and students (or their parents/guardians) must 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 be returned home
- One student per seat on school buses, unless children are from the same house, with plexiglass separating the bus driver from students
- Students or employees should not share food or personal items like phones, pens or pencils. Clear protocols also need to be in place for the safe and healthy handling of all food items.
The Ministry of Education added that schools will have failsafe plans in place so they are ready to make changes if there is a risk of transmission, second wave or a community outbreak
The plans for each school must be approved by the ministry, according to a BC Government press release.
Due to the voluntary nature of the reopening plan, school leaders will be contacting families to make arrangements, said the Province. Parents are being advised to contact the school principal if they haven’t heard from their school by May 22, 2020.
The Ministry of Education says they are working with all 60 school districts, independent school authorities, First Nations schools, teachers, school leaders, support staff, public health officials and all its education partners to co-ordinate the next steps for accommodating more students moving forward.
“As we look to create our new normal, reopening our schools to in-class learning is an important step,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer. “It will look different but will be done in a way that is safe for everyone. I want to assure all the staff, students and families that we will face the challenges that come with this transition together – and we will do it in a measured and thoughtful way.”
The BC Government stated there are approximately 5,000 students province-wide currently attending classrooms
In addition to the optional school plan revealed by Horgan, Minister of State for Child Care Katrina Chen also announced plans to reopen child care facilities that have been forced to close during the pandemic.
Chen said updated health and safety guidelines for child care settings released by the provincial health officer will allow centres to reopen safely. She added that the BC Centre for Disease Control says the COVID-19 virus has a very low infection rate in children.