Calling it “the biggest challenge that the education community has ever had,” BC Premier John Horgan addressed some concerns around the province’s plan for K-12 students to return to full-time, in-classroom learning this September.
“In 100 years, we’ve not had to experience going back to school…during a global pandemic,” said Horgan during a press conference in Surrey on Thursday.
As such, Horgan said he knows there’s anxiety around the plan to do so, but also reiterated his confidence in the process and reasoning behind the decision.
“Of course, this is a very stressful time, but I’m confident that the steering committee [members] are all working to make sure that we can get this right,” he said. “I know that community leaders in the education sector will be focused on making sure that they’re doing everything they can to make sure children and the people that work in schools are safe.”
The first few days of school is “always a time of flux, and I believe that going into this September, we need to be more flexible than ever before,” Horgan said. “I’m confident that as we evolve through the plan… it will be different when we finish than it was when we started, but as with every journey, we need to take that first step.”
Asked if he was prepared at all to delay the start of the school year to help alleviate concerns, Horgan was non-committal.
“I want parents to know that we would not be putting children at risk if we thought there was an overwhelming risk,” he said. “Everybody is focused on making sure that this is a success, and if there is new information as the summer progresses… we will amend and adapt.”
As of today, however, “we’re focused on starting the school year as we have planned, with provisions in place to make sure we get as safe a start as possible,” he said. “As a parent, I understand the anxiety other parents are feeling, but I also know that we need to focus on getting back to as near to normal as we possibly can.”
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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.