VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Many were hoping to hear when students were going to be returning to school but what B.C.’s education minister is saying is that plan is still a work in progress.
“Right now, we are working with other ministries and our education partners for a number of possible scenarios, including some in-class instruction in a controlled and measured way for the future,” Rob Fleming said Tuesday.
As of now, the province is focused on safely teaching the children of front line and essential service workers.
So far, of the 550,000 students in B.C., 2,300 are back in public schools and 1,300 are at independent schools – most of those being primary school students.
Fleming says schools are also supporting students with special needs who require in-person assistance from teachers and children of parents who need respite.
The next step will be to expand to children of tier two essential service workers.
“The bulk of the work right now is really around the health and safety protocols both for staff and students. We have some in place right now but those are for very, very limited numbers in a school building and if we’re going to not flip a switch and start up the school system but begin to dial up the number of people in schools we’re going to have to update those protocols.”
To plot the path forward, Fleming says, they will be guided by science and the guidance from the Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry — that includes to what extent PPE or non-medical masks will be used.
The province is also looking into how other jurisdictions are bringing students back to school. One of these is New Zealand, where students return Wednesday.
“This will help up here in British Columbia form evidence-based plan for B.C., which minimizes the risk of COVID-19 transmission when the conditions are appropriate.”
President of the B.C. School Trustees Association, Stephanie Higginson, says she understands how challenging these sudden changes have been for students and parents.
She is the parent of two kids and admits to “losing the plot” when trying to teach her nine-year-old and says she has to remind herself that she is a parent to her children, not a teacher.
Higginson telling parents around the province that what they are doing is enough.
While Fleming notes it will still be a while before there is a COVID-19 vaccine, he says whether all students would need it to attend school is all a decision to be made down the road.
But, he says schools can play a roll in what will have to be a very wide-spread public health program.
“The school system can effectively deliver vaccinations as we do for other diseases currently.”
Last year B.C. mandated the collection of vaccination records in a provincial registry for most students.
During this time where nothing is familiar, and many families are struggling to make ends meet, Fleming says teachers and support staff have been crucial to getting meals to those who need them.
To date, he says grocery hampers, bag lunches, and more than 75,000 meals have been supplied to 16,000 families.
“We will return to a regular school life down the road, and that road will be shorter and sooner if we continue to act together and act now with measures to further spread of COVID-19.”
B.C.’s primary and secondary school students have been out of the classroom since they left for spring break March 13.
The following week the province announced schools would be closed indefinitely.
Districts around B.C. are providing a variety of homeschooling options, including paper workbooks, online assignments and group instruction via platforms like Zoom