BC schools are officially reopening on June 1

May 15 2020, 10:13 am

The BC government has announced a “gradual” return of BC students to the classroom, beginning on June 1.

The announcement was made on Friday morning, during a joint press conference with BC Premier John Horgan, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Education Minister Rob Fleming.

“The science shows us that we’re ready to bring students back to school safely on a gradual and part-time basis,” said Horgan. “BC has done well under the guidance of our provincial health officials, and now is the time to take this next step together.”

In making the announcement, Fleming noted that the return “won’t be back to the school life was before the pandemic,” noting that there “will be strict health and safety standards in place.”

Fleming said that in an effort to make sure schools are safe for students and staff, the number of students in school each day will be reduced, with most receiving in-class instruction part time.

School districts will determine scheduling for classes and transportation arrangements. For kindergarten to Grade 5, this means most students will go to school half time (such as alternating days), while grades 6 to 12 will go to school about one day a week.

Children of essential service workers and students needing additional supports will have the option to attend school full time. Families that decide not to send their children to class may continue learning from home.

Each school district and independent school must have its return-to-class and safety plans approved by the ministry before moving to the next stage, Fleming said. These plans will be posted on each district’s website for families to access. The ministry will support boards of education and independent school authorities in building these plans, and operations during the pandemic will be regularly monitored.

Since returning to class is voluntary and most students will be attending part time, school leaders will contact families to make arrangements for children to return to in-class instruction, Fleming said.

If parents have not heard from their schools by May 22, they should contact their principal, he added. Parents and caregivers are advised to follow the schedule provided for their child to ensure a safe and orderly restart.

In addition, all school boards and  independent school authorities will be required to implement strict provincial health officer and WorkSafeBC health and safety measures to reduce the risk COVID-19 transmission, including:

  • Desks spaced apart and avoiding groups or gatherings of students in hallways or other common areas;
  • Regular cleaning of high-contact surfaces like door knobs, toilet seats, keyboards and desks at least twice a day, and cleaning the school building at least once a day;
  • 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.

In addition, 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, according to the minister.

Fleming also said that students or employees should not share food or personal items like phones, pens or pencils, and clear protocols also need to be in place for the safe and healthy handling of all food items.

Asked if teachers would be required to do both in-class and virtual learning, along with whether students would have their own teachers doing these sessions, Fleming said this is one of the things that the ministry, school districts and individual schools are working on determining.

“Classes will stay with their teacher in every circumstance where that’s possible,” said Fleming.

“We have some very good templates, and suggested schedules to arrive at the goal where we continue to support online learning for those who choose not to return to the classroom in June, and those who are in smaller, divided classes to reduce the density of children and taking advantage of part-time, in-class instruction,” he added.

There are lot of students, said Fleming, who “will significantly benefit by having a partial return to schools that are struggling with the online learning environment, and other kids that regularly experience all kinds of things around summer learning loss as it is, that would be magnified between March 30 – the end of spring break – and if we simply had no in-class learning opportunities before labour day.”

The suspension of in-class learning back in March “was necessary…but learning has not stopped,” said Henry. “For many staff, students, and educators, being in the classroom is where they want to be.”

More to come…