Health and education officials say that British Columbia will see a much more normal start to school in September.
The announcement was made on Thursday morning by Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside. She was joined by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, President of BC School Trustees Association Stephanie Higginson, and BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils President Andrea Sinclair.
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Whiteside said that the COVID-19 safety plans used in classrooms over the previous year were widely successful. More notably, she says that “students will be back in the classroom for full-time, in-person instruction, and the return of a near-normal start to school in September.”
One of the biggest changes is that students will no longer be grouped in cohorts or learning groups. According to a statement from the Ministry of Education, research has shown that “schools were not a significant source of COVID-19 transmission.”
And with the high vaccination rates being seen across the province, the measure will “no longer be necessary.”
Whiteside added that pending further public health guidance, it’s also expected that the restrictions on gatherings, extracurricular activities, and sports will be relaxed in time for the new school year.
Henry noted that students and parents can plan for a “much more typical school year starting in the fall,” explaining that the goal is to reduce COVID-19 transmission to the point where it can be treated like a less severe disease.
“Our goal in particular for our schools is to get to the point that we can take the same approach that we do now with other communicable diseases, whether it’s influenza or measles, where we can manage them on a local basis, on an individual basis, without having those broad impacts on society that we have had this year,” she said.
The policies on mask-wearing in schools will be confirmed later this summer, although Whiteside says that they’ll be “aligned with broader provincial guidelines.”
What will remain in place, however, are practices like daily health checks, staying home when a student feels sick, and frequent hand sanitation.
Whiteside also announced a $43.6 million investment in BC schools, which includes one-time, COVID-specific funding of $25.6 million for the coming school year.
This will be used to continue enhanced cleaning measures in schools, support rapid response teams, and support Indigenous students who have been affected by the pandemic. Funding will also be used to improve mental health service supports for students and staff.
$18 million will also directly address learning impacts to students. School districts will have flexibility on how they use the $18 million; however, Whiteside assures that the money will be used to meet local needs and assess learning impacts on students caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.