VICTORIA — Children in British Columbia will return to classrooms two days later than originally planned as part of a gradual restart to schooling, the education minister says.
Rob Fleming said earlier this week that students wouldn’t be expected back on the original date of Sept. 8 to help give administrators and teachers more time to prepare amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff will now meet on Sept. 8, while students will be welcomed in classrooms by Sept. 10.
“We arrived at the two days after discussions with all the leaders of all the major partner groups in B.C.,” Fleming said on Wednesday. “This is the best scenario, I think, to continue to build the confidence and familiarity with the protocols that are in place.”
He said outdoor education will play a large role in the first two months of classes and emphasized the importance of students returning to schools to continue their education.
“We can’t sacrifice 18 months of education, we have to learn how to do things safely during this pandemic. That’s why we’ve developed and evolved the guidelines to maximize the return to in-class instruction,” Fleming said.
He acknowledged that some parents will not feel comfortable sending their kids back to school and the province’s distributed learning centres would help those who have concerns.
School districts will individually set the hours of the first two days back in school, Fleming added.
Premier John Horgan said he understands parents and families are concerned about the circumstances, but added that schools are fundamental in a return to normalcy.
“We’re working everyday, diligently, to try and ease those concerns to make it as safe as we possibly can,” Horgan said.
“I think parents understand that, educators understand that, and the kids, of course, they just want to get back to school.”
He said the government will be flexible over how schools operate and Fleming demonstrated that by delaying the school year for students by a few days.
“This is an extraordinary time, our children are going to be extraordinary because of this time that we’re living in,” said Horgan.
A government steering committee, established to help schools plan their restart, will issue operational guidelines next week on issues ranging from health and safety protocols to supporting the mental health of students.
The B.C. branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Canadian Union of Public Employees K-12 Presidents Council said in a statement that it supports the gradual restart plan.
“The details announced this morning will help ensure that all K-12 workers will understand how schools will operate in the ‘new normal,’ ” said Paul Faoro, the president of the B.C. union branch. “All stakeholders generally support this phased-in approach.”
Watch: B.C. Premier John Horgan has a message for young people. Story continues below.
The government is spending $45.6 million on safety measures, including increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces, an increased number of hand-hygiene stations and boosting the availability of masks.
Students will be organized into learning groups to reduce the number of people they come in contact with, cutting the risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus.
Children in elementary and middle schools will have their learning groups capped at 60, while students in secondary schools will have a cap of 120.
This report was first published by The Canadian Press on Aug. 12, 2020.