B.C.’s education minister and provincial health officer provided an update on back-to-school planning for September as the province emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools are expected to return from summer break on Sept. 7, immediately after the province moves to Step 4 of its reopening plan.
“It is expected that all eligible British Columbians will have been offered both vaccination doses by September, which is fantastic news,” said Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside. “So what this means is that students will be back in the classroom for full-time, in-person instruction and the return to a near-normal start to school in September.”
Whiteside said students will no longer be grouped into cohorts or learning groups, and it’s also expected that restrictions on gatherings, extra-curricular activities and sports will be relaxed by September.
The education ministry also announced funding of $46.3 million to support the safe operation of schools emerging from the pandemic.
$25.6 million of that will be one-time funding for the 2021-22 school year and will be used to continue enhanced cleaning measures and rapid response teams, support Indigenous students and improve mental health services and supports.
“We know the pandemic has not only impacted mental health, but has also impacted learning and educational equity,” said Whiteside. “Early research is showing those students most impacted are those who already faced structural barriers, including students living in poverty, Indigenous students, English-language learners and those who need more support in schools.”
She said $18 million will directly address those learning impacts to students.
Students and staff will be expected to continue daily health checks and hygiene practices, and will also be expected to stay home when sick.
“This was a very different school year for everyone, and school communities have done an exemplary job adapting to the challenges we all faced,” said Henry. “Now, as we transition to a new phase and continue with immunizations throughout the province, students and educators can look forward to returning to a school environment that will be much closer to what they are accustomed to.”
Henry said public health will continue to do case management for COVID-19 cases and if the transmission is seen, measures will be taken to make sure communities are aware.
“What we don’t expect to see is that need to widespread shut things down across the board, because most people being protected means it’s not going to spread in the same way,” she said.
Those aged 12 and up were recently approved to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Since then, more than 50 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds have received their first dose.