Although many parents, teachers, and children have expressed concerns about students going back to classes, B.C. schools are preparing to reopen to students as B.C. begins slowly reopening parts of the province.
Today (May 15), Premier John Horgan, Education Minister Rob Fleming, Minister of State for Child Care Minister Katrina Chen, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed how students will have the option to return to schools starting on June 1. It's part of a five-stage approach that has been in use and will continue to unfold over the next few months. The province is aiming to start the 2020-21 school year in September.
Schools must have plans for each stage, and these plans must incorporate preparations for changes if there is risk of transmission, an outbreak, or a second wave.
The ministry must approve the plans for each school district and independent schools before they can proceed to the next stage, and these plans must be posted on each district’s website.
Schools will be contacting families about arrangements for students returning to school. Parents who haven’t heard from schools by May 22 should contact their principal.
Stage 5 consisted of the suspension of all in-class instruction began on March 17, followed by the shift to remote or online learning.
Schools are now in Stage 4, with approximately 5,000 students, including children of essential workers, students with disabilities, and students needing extra support in attendance. All of these students have the option to attend school full-time.
A shift into Stage 3 will begin in June, with optional in-class learning becoming available for all students.
For kindergarten to Grade 5, most students will attend school part-time (such as on alternating days), with 50 percent of students in attendance at a time.
Meanwhile, Grade 6 to 12 students will go to school about one day each week, with 20 percent of students in attendance at a time.
School districts will determine the scheduling of classes and transportation.
In Stage 2, all elementary students will be able to return to school full-time. Meanwhile, secondary students will be able to return to school part-time, with 40 percent of students in attendance at a time.
By Stage 1, all students will return to full-time classes all week while health guidelines remain in place.
If transmission remains low and with the support of the provincial health officer, the province aims to begin Stage 1 in September
If an outbreak or second wave occurs during the 2020-21 school year, schools can revert to previous stages as needed while maintaining education.
Health and safety measures from Dr. Henry and WorkSafeBC are required to reduce virus transmission.
Measures include desks spaced apart, no groups in hallways or other areas, cleaning high-contact surfaces twice a day and cleaning the building a minimum of once a day, requisite hand sanitization by everyone prior to entrance, staggered break periods, daily assessment for any COVID-19 symptoms, one student per seat on school buses, and no sharing of food or items.
Large assemblies won’t be permitted, over 50 people cannot be in one area, and all school activities must practice physical distancing.
Cleaning protocols include water fountains to be disabled, providing paper hand towels instead of hand dryers, use of gloves when cleaning bodily fluids (and washing hands after removing gloves), and limiting items that cannot be easily cleaned.
Anyone with cold symptoms must be isolated, sent home, be tested for COVID-19, and remain at home for 14 days or until they receive test results.
If anyone tests positive for COVID-19 or there is a probable case, contact tracing will be conducted.
There won’t be anyone present at schools or child care centres screening individuals for specific symptoms, checking temperatures, or conducting COVID-19 testing as these must be conducted by healthcare professionals.
More information about the B.C. Education Restart Plan can be found at the B.C. government website.
The B.C. government is providing over $90 million in funding for over 2,600 child care centres to remain open and to help over 1,400 closed centres to reopen in the future.
The provincial health officer is providing updated health and safety guidelines for reopening child care centres (many centres have been available for children of essential service workers during the pandemic).
The new guidelines are similar to the previous mentioned measures for schools, in addition to staggering drop-off and pickup times, frequent use of outdoors when possible, sanitizing reusable utensils, minimizing physical contact, and only permitting personal comfort items that can be cleaned each day.
Distances between nap mats should be increased and supervised rest areas should be available for children with symptoms to remain until they can be picked up (the areas need to be disinfected afterward).
More information on COVID-19 health for child care centres is available at the B.C. government website.
According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the COVID-19 virus has a low infection rate in children.
Less than one percent of children and youth in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19.
Children are not considered the primary drivers of the spread of the coronavirus and evidence indicates that transmission involving children occurs mostly within households or from adults to children.
More information about health at schools and child care centres during the pandemic is available at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.