BC Education Minister Rob Fleming said on Wednesday that enhanced safety measures and additional resources will enable most students in grades K-12 to return to school on September 8, 2020, with full-time in-class learning.
“The classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development, and that’s why we are working hard to ensure students can safely spend the next school year with their teachers and classmates,” said Fleming during a press conference.
The province said that on the advice of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, students will be organized into learning groups, a consistent group of staff and students. This they said, will reduce the number of people each student or staff member will come into contact with, reducing the risk of transmission and ensuring quicker contact tracing by health authorities.
- See also:
All boards of education and independent school authorities will continue to be required to implement several health and safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the recently updated guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control.
As part of the fall return, the province said plans to implement cohorts (learning groups) to reduce the number of close, in-person interactions. These groups of students and staff will remain together throughout the school year and who primarily interact with each other.
Cohorts will be no more than 60 people in elementary and middle school and no more than 120 people in secondary school.
The province noted it won’t be necessary for students in a learning group to all be in the same class, “but they will be able to interact and connect with each other as a consistent group during breaks, in common areas like the gym, library, or at the playground.”
In addition, staff and students (or their parents/guardians) must also 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 return home.
The province said most elementary schools in the province can return to full-time in-class instruction with minimal modifications to school bell schedules and timetables. Elementary schools will remain organized into classrooms as students’ primary learning environment.
Middle schools that follow an elementary school model (for instance, one classroom with one teacher) will be organized like elementary schools, with minimal modifications to school bell schedules and timetables.
Middle schools that follow a “junior high” model, where students move from class-to-class and take a range of subjects taught by different teachers, may need to be reorganized for full-time, in-class learning.
Secondary school students will continue to be organized in classrooms, ensuring students still have access to electives and they will be able to reconfigure their learning group for each new semester. Some schools may reorganize how they offer courses, such as allowing students to take two courses at a time every 10 weeks.
Small secondary schools
There are 96 public secondary schools and 49 independent schools that have fewer than 800 students. These schools will likely require only minor modifications to their bell schedules or timetables to ensure a safe, full-time return to the classroom for all students.
Medium-sized secondary schools
There are 104 public secondary schools and one independent school with between 800 and 1,500 students. They will need to consider modifications to their bell schedules and timetables to accommodate students in the classroom full-time.
Large secondary schools
There are 16 public secondary schools with between 1,500 and 2,000 students, located primarily in the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan. For these larger secondary schools, school districts are looking at a variety of options to maximize in-class learning and, in rare cases, may need to offer a hybrid approach with a blend of remote online and self-directed learning.
“Focus on science-based decisions”
BC School Trustees Association President Stephanie Higginson said the province “will continue to keep a strong focus on science-based decisions as we learn to adjust the delivery of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
She added that education boards across the province “will utilize updated health and safety measures, created on the advice of the provincial health officer, to ensure that students can continue to receive the social, emotional and academic supports provided by their community school during this critical time in education.”
As well, Fleming said families will hear from their school district or independent school throughout the summer with updated health and safety guidelines for elementary, middle and secondary schools, as well as learning groups, schedules, enrolment and registration information with the final details being submitted to the ministry and posted online by the districts on August 26.
“The safety of students and staff is paramount and the government will continue to make science-based decisions, following the expert advice of Dr. Henry and her public health team,” Fleming said.
“We know how important it is for children to be back in school – to both support their emotional and mental health and their ability to socialize and to learn,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “We ask for families and workplaces to continue to be flexible as we come into the fall.”