Today, BC Premier John Horgan together with Education Minister Rob Fleming, Minister of State for Child Care Katrina Chen and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a gradual increase of returning students to class. Starting June 1, students will have the choice of returning to the classroom. It will be voluntary.
After the weekend, BC enters into Phase 2 with a gradual increase in activity. Testing will monitor success, and the results will inform subsequent decisions. This gradual return to school will set the stage for a return to school in September.
The online program has been successful. The objective is to keep students safe. Rigorous cleaning protocols are in place. Strict province-wide standards will be in place, and it will look different than “The Before Time.” All schools will be required to submit their operating plans to the Ministry.
The Minister of Education Rob Fleming noted that schools are a place where children learn to connect with other people, in addition to accessing academic learning.
Children of essential service workers have already been attending schools.
Students will attend parttime (except for those of essential workers). Lunch breaks will be staggered
- Grades K to 5: 50% of the students will be in the school at any time.
- Grade 6 – 12, 20% of students will be in the school at any time. So they are looking at going back to school one day a week.
Schools are preparing transportation plans. Hallways flows can be adjusted. Daily deep cleaning will be implemented. Everyone will be required to wash hands upon entering the school. Any student or staff with any symptoms will be required to stay at home, with no exceptions. Students will have additional access to mental health supports, including virtual support.
Remote learning will continue. Families who want can have their children stay at home. Again, this is voluntary and part-time.
Parents should hear from their children’s schools and/or school districts by May 22.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry noted that learning in BC has not stopped. Parents and teachers have done their very best to provide learning to BC students. Her personal priority with the opening of schools is to ensure that the kids are kept safe and healthy. Again, the emphasis is given to the message to stay at home if you have any symptoms, be it slight sniffles from allergies or a cough or a fever. Stay. At. Home. If someone does become ill, there is a comprehensive plan to take care of them, including continued learning from home. She also repeated the message that this is voluntary.
Minister of State for Child Care Katina Chen noted that services have remained available to children of essential services workers. She noted that with this announcement, child care centres are NOT mandated to open. These services can open at a schedule that allows them to provide the best and safest services possible. Those receiving emergency funding will continue to receive that support. She noted that BC has invested over $90M to keep these services available. The government still has an eye on providing affordable care to BC families.
From the Q&A
The ministry and school districts are currently working out how the teacher availability will be managed (ie, will teachers require to teach both in class and online). Fleming noted that their first commitment is to providing learning to all students. He assured parents that online education will continue to be available.
Classes will stay with their teacher in most circumstances, though there will be some exceptions. The expectation, though, is that classes will be kept together. The educational approach in BC is to be team-based.
Fleming was heartened by the creativity of teachers and school boards to work through this unprecedented situation. For example, 75,000 meals were delivered to vulnerable school-aged children throughout BC.
The ministry has been clear that kids should not be academically penalized for being thrown into the middle of an international pandemic. Youth transitioning to post-secondary learning are being supported through this transition as much as possible.
“Everyone is doing their best,” Fleming said, “and everything is going to be okay.”
The teachers on-call have been “incredible” in stepping up where gaps are created through teacher illnesses.
BC is following what’s happening in the province of Quebec along with other countries that have had a return to school. Protocols are being shaped with input from these places (including Denmark and other Scandinavian countries). The greatest influence in shaping BC’s direction has been the leadership and input from Dr. Henry, who has led a made-in-BC solution.
When asked about testing, Fleming redirected the question saying that accommodations will be made for teachers who are feeling sick. Dr. Henry added that there is no value in regularly testing people who show no symptoms as the results are unreliable. She noted that the self-check is going to be most important at this time. Minister of State Chen added that when it comes to ECEs, it will be up to the individual centres to determine when they re-open.
For grades K-6, classes will be divided into halves. Gathering spaces will have rules and guidelines set on usage. This will be a part of the plans that school districts will have to submit to the ministry. There may be summer school options for students in Grades 8 to 12 where summer classes are normally available. BC has some very strong domestic enrollment growth. There is an expected reduction in international students. Regarding teacher lay-offs, the ministry will have a better sense as they near September as retirements will also shape job availability.
Dr. Henry noted that they are still looking at things like opening school grounds. Some parts of school grounds will be opened as that will allow for outdoor learning. It’s unlikely that all playgrounds will be opened for all use.
Horgan closed with a message of hope for graduates, saying that even though they are graduating in the middle of the pandemic, and even though the immediate world open to them is smaller, it will expand and they will have opportunities to grow into.
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