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Schools in B.C. will resume part-time on June 1

Last Updated May 15, 2020 at 3:26 pm PDT

FILE -Premier John Horgan. (NEWS 1130)

Students in B.C. will have the option of returning to classrooms part-time starting next month

A reintroduction of full-time classes is planned for September

Horgan assured parents there is no pressure or risk for students to return sooner than they are ready

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — Students in B.C. will have the option of returning to classrooms part-time starting next month, Premier John Horgan said Friday.

A reintroduction of full-time classes is targeted for September, while Horgan assured parents there is no pressure or risk for students to return sooner than they are ready.

“In-class teaching has been absent for the past two months, and it’s time now, starting on June 1, for students to have the option to return to school on a part-time basis,” he said.

RELATED: Too soon for school for some B.C. parents

“This step will pave the way for a cleaner and smoother reintroduction of full-time classes in September, and it’s our genuine desire to make sure that no one feels pressured to do this. I understand if parents or children are anxious about going back to classrooms and I want to assure you that we would not be making these announcements today if we felt there was an undue risk to the health and well being of the youngsters that are going into our schools.”

Horgan said the part-time return to school will help families who have struggled to adjust to remote and online learning, and for parents who are going back to work.

“At every step, we will move slowly and make health and safety our top priority. B.C. has done well under the guidance of our provincial health officials, and now is the time to take this next step together.”

Classes will be divided in half upon the return and students will be spaced out, along with other guidelines developed by the provincial health officer and WorkSafeBC health and safety measures, to reduce the risk COVID-19 transmission.

Students from Kindergarten to Grade 5 will be in school half-time in June, meaning two to three days a week. Schools for Grades 6-12 students will be at 20-per-cent capacity, meaning one day a week.

Students, educators and staff will be required to clean their hands upon entering school property. Schools will have more hand sanitizing and cleaning stations available. Staff, students, and parents must also do a self-assessment daily for symptoms of COVID-19, influenza, or colds.

If any student or staff member has symptoms, arrangements will be made for that person to be returned home.

Clear protocols also need to be in place for the safe and healthy handling of all food items, according to the province.

“I know for many students, staff, and educators, being in the classroom is where they want to be. As we shift into phase two of the B.C. restart plan, getting back to school and reopening our childcare centers to everyone is at the top of the list, ensuring that it is done safely, however, is my priority,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

“So whether you think it’s allergies or a mild cold or sniffles, that’s the time you need to stay home stay away from school, stay away from work, and stay away from others.”

Henry dismissed regular testing of teachers and support staff for the virus at schools, though.

“There’s no value that we see in regularly testing people without symptoms. But absolutely we will be, as I said, monitoring very closely, and it is a very high priority for any child or family member or staff member in the schools or childcare centers if they have any symptoms at all or any concerns that they are in the group that is prioritized for testing.”

The Ministry of Education has a five-stage approach to operate schools, depending on risk of transmission. Schools also have plans in place for each stage, ensuring they are ready to make changes if there is a risk of transmission, a second wave, or a community outbreak.

Each school district and independent school must have its return-to-class and safety plans approved by the ministry before moving to the next stage. The plans will be posted on each district’s website for families to access.

Schools will contact families to make arrangements for children to return to in-class instruction.

If parents have not heard from their schools by May 22, they are asked to contact their principal.

Education Minister Rob Fleming said the province will continue to support online learning.

He also cautioned that not all students will return to class with the teachers they had before in-class instruction was halted.

“Classes will stay with their teacher in every circumstance where that’s possible. There will be some exceptions, due to health conditions and, and those sorts of things,” he said.

The province is also monitoring what is happening in other jurisdictions, other provinces, and countires and what they are doing in terms of students returning to classrooms.

“So I would say that Denmark has been very instructive, New Zealand, of course. We’ve been in close contact, my deputy minister has been, in contact with his counterpart in that jurisdiction.
We’re looking at some other Scandinavian countries, as well,” Fleming said.

“But the greatest influence, quite frankly, on the discussion and what’s got us to the point today is the leadership of Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, and working with the Centre for Disease Control and WorkSafe B.C. and all the employee groups and partner organizations to have a made in B.C. approach.”

The province also released guidelines for childcare centres. They include physical space requirements set out in the Child Care Licensing Regulation, as well as hygeine protocols.

“We know that parents will continue to make the right child care decisions for their family, based on their individual circumstances, and providers will do the same for their centres and the child care professionals who work there,” said Katrina Chen, minister of State for Child Care.

“While we are giving the necessary tools to child care centres to operate safely, it is ultimately the choice of parents and providers.”