COVID-19: B.C. reveals how $242 million in federal funds will be used to boost school health and safety measures

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      After Labour Day (September 7), teachers are set to return to school on Tuesday (September 8), with students returning two days later (September 10).

      Amid much concern and many questions about what this new school year will be like during the pandemic, the B.C. government has provided more details about how new funding will be used for health and safety measures.

      On August 26, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced over $2 billion in federal funding for schools, with $242.4 million earmarked for British Columbia for the 2020-2021 school year.

      B.C. Teachers’ Federation President Teri Mooring sent a letter to B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming on September 1 to outline how those funds should be spent. Among her several points, Mooring had advised smaller class sizes, hybrid and remote options, and more counsellors.

      The B.C. government provided details today (September 3) about how the $242.4 million will be allocated.

      Funds will be provided to public school districts based on enrolment.

      The first half of the funding ($121.2 million) will be received this month. The Education Ministry will provide school districts with $101.1 million and $8 million for independent schools. Meanwhile, $12.1 million will be reserved for any COVID-19-related issues that arise between September and December.

      In January, the ministry will receive and allocate the remaining $121.2 million.

      As some families are seeking learning options outside classrooms, the federal funding will allow for implementing online and remote learning options; hiring more teachers and support staff for remote learning; purchasing software licences, electronic course materials, and textbooks; purchasing computers or tablets; and the creation of Wi-Fi hubs and internet access in remote and Indigenous communities. The funds can also be used for learning resources and supports, including on-call teachers and staff costs; and mental-health support for students and staff.

      On that last note, the B.C. government announced yesterday (September 2) that it would allocate an additional $2 million to boost mental-health programs and services for students, families, and educators in the school system.

      To address health and safety concerns and requirements, school districts and independent schools can use funds, based on local needs, including:

      • improving air systems in schools, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, portable air scrubbers, and increased utility costs;
      • increasing hand hygiene, including additional handwashing and hand sanitizing stations, installing touchless faucets, or additional supplies;
      • installing plexiglass and other barriers, providing outdoor learning spaces, and adapting classrooms and school buses to minimize physical contact;
      • purchasing additional cleaning supplies (sprayers, fogger machines, etc.) for frequent cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces;
      • purchasing additional masks, face shields, or other PPE;
      • increasing staff and covering salary costs for additional hours for meeting health and safety guidelines in schools.

      In additions, funds can also be used for transportation and before- and after-school care needs, such as additional transportation costs to have fewer students on buses, and to accommodate new school schedules and additional routes; alternative transportation strategies, including gas expense assistance for those who bring children to school; more space and covering the cleaning costs for before- and after-school care for smaller groups and ensuring students remain within learning groups; and additional staff for before- and after-school care.

      The federal funding will add to the $45.6 million in provincial funding for the school restart plan, and both add to B.C.’s 2020 budget of $546 million for schools.

      More details about B.C.’s back-to-school plans can be found at the B.C. Education Ministry website.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.