Online petition against mandatory return to school gathers steam 

WatchFor the first time since March, students in BC will be back in class on Sept. 8. But an online petition is generating thousands of signatures from parents who want the return to school to be on a voluntary basis. Mary Griffin reports.

In five weeks, school-aged children will be back in class in British Columbia.

Last week, the province announced most K-12 students will return to school full time in September amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with safety measures like learning groups (cohorts).

Luca Traxell is looking forward to starting grade six. “I’m excited to see my friends,” he said.

But an online petition with thousands of signatures is gaining steam. 

It’s calling on the provincial government to make the return to school voluntary until there are clear evidence-based plans to keep students and staff safe.

The provincial school system is still preparing to reopen, according to Saanich School District Superintendent Dave Eberwein.

“The Stage Two plan released by the province makes for mandatory attendance for students in school.  So there isn’t an option for students to choose remote learning,” Eberwein said.

Education Minister Rob Fleming announced BC’s COVID-19: Return to School plan on July 29, which details how students will be back in September on a full-time basis.  The province is spending more than $45 million for enhanced cleaning, hand-washing stations, reusable masks and other measures to support safe learning in school districts across the province.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health Ooficer, said children will have been out of school for 175 days by the start of the 2020-21 school year, and officials need to make in-school learning a priority.

“We need to work together to ensure that we are giving our children what they need come this school year. And that’s what we intend to do,” she said.

One parent, Melissa Gagnon, said having her two daughters in day camps through the summer gave her a sense that they will be safe in school. “I think Dr. Bonnie Henry has put some great protocols and processes in place.  So I do feel comfortable.”

And Milan Haugrud and Abigail Montgomery, who are going into Grade 10, are looking forward to a chance to reconnect with friends after months at home.

READ MORE: B.C. reports 146 new cases of COVID-19 over long weekend, 2 new cases in Island Health

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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