COVID-19 in B.C.: Provincial school plan shifts to gradual reopening approach

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      When B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming announced on July 29 that schools would restart on September 8, many teachers, staff, students, and stakeholders had concerns and reservations.

      Among them was the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF), which stated on the same day that the plan needed more work and that more preparation time was needed. 

      On August 10, the BCTF released survey results (from a survey of one-third of the province’s teachers) on August 10 that found that only 54 percent of teachers felt safe teaching in June and only 51 percent reported proper health and safety measures were in place.

      On August 11, Fleming announced that the province would take a phased approach to schools starting in September, with some more details to follow.

      B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      That came today when the B.C. Education Ministry announced that a gradual restart will be implemented for the 2020-21 school year starting in September.

      On September 8, staff will meet with school health and safety committees to receive information and instructions about how updated health guidelines will be applied in their school.

      Educators and staff will then have time to adapt to their new routines and health protocols, finalize plans for learning groups, and confirm lesson plans before students arrive.

      Students will be welcomed back to schools on September 10 for reorientation to classrooms that will appear differently from how they were before the pandemic. At that time, students will be assigned to their class and find out who is in their learning group, and will practise new routines and how to manoeuvre around the school safely.

      School districts received readiness checklists on August 10 to ensure that health and safety plans are updated, that plans include children who require additional support, and that there is communication with unions, staff, and families. 

      The K-12 education restart steering committee and working groups (with education partners and health experts) are working to create operational guidelines for the health and safety of teachers, staff, and students.

      These guidelines will be available on Monday (August 17) and will also include guidance for mental-health support for students, ensuring fewer contacts and safe workplaces for individuals interacting with more than one learning group (specialists, teachers on call, educational assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and more), hybrid instruction (combining in-person and remote learning), reducing physical contact within learning groups, and ensuring students remain within learning groups during child care as much as possible.

      More information on the K-12 Education Restart Plan is available at the B.C. government website while health and safety guidelines are available at the WorksafeBC website.

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