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B.C. students to return to school full-time in September

Last Updated Jul 29, 2020 at 2:15 pm PDT

FILE - The province's return-to-school plan includes having most students back in classes full-time starting this fall.
Summary

The province's return-to-school plan includes having most students back in classes full-time starting this fall

To minimize contact, students will be assigned to groups up to 60 for younger grades and 120 for high school

The education restart plan includes $45.6 million to support school districts, hire more staff and clean schools

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — The province’s return-to-school plan includes having most students back in classes full-time starting this fall, but B.C. teachers think it needs more work.

To minimize contact, students will be assigned to groups up to 60 for younger grades and 120 for high school, according to the next phase of the B.C. education restart plan, released Wednesday.

Some middle and high school students could see adjustments to their schedules, including moving to a semester system or a hybrid learning model. The latter may involve a mix of in-class and virtual learning.

The plan also includes $45.6 million to support school districts and independent schools, including $23 million to hire more staff and for cleaning schools.

Of the total, $2.2 million will be spent to ensure reusable face masks are available, says the province. The funding also includes $3 million to support remote learning, such as technology loans or software to support students with disabilities or complex needs.

However, B.C. Teachers’ Federation President Teri Mooring said the plan needs more time and work if it’s going to be successful and keep everyone safe.

“A lot of excellent work has already gone into the restart planning by the steering committee and working groups, but this announcement misses the mark on several critical components and should go back to those working groups,” Mooring says.

“The reopening needs to be safe, careful, and get the buy-in of teachers, support staff, parents, and students. If the plan is rushed or too many questions are left unanswered, it won’t be successful. Bringing everyone back all at once, even with some version of a cohort model, on the first day after the Labour Day long weekend, is too much too soon given the many unanswered questions in today’s announcement.”

Mooring says teachers and support staff need time in September to adjust to the new structures, make sure the proper health and safety protocols work, and prepare curricular resources and lessons that meet the new reality.

“If school staffs are given time to collaborate, get training, and prepare, everyone will be better off.”

The BCTF supports in-person learning.

“There were a lot of challenges with emergency remote learning in the spring as well as the partial return in June. But, the imperative to get students back into schools needs to be balanced with health and safety considerations in the context of how schools actually function,” Mooring says.

Classroom organization

Learning groups of students and staff are to remain together throughout the school year and primarily interact with each other. According to the province, that will reduce the number of people each student or staff member will come into contact with, reducing the risk of transmission and ensuring quicker contact tracing by health authorities.

Elementary schools will remain organized into classrooms as students’ primary learning environment. Middle schools will follow the elementary model.

Secondary school students will continue to be organized in classrooms, ensuring students still have access to electives and they will be able to reconfigure their learning group for each new semester. Some schools may reorganize how they offer courses, such as allowing students to take two courses at a time every 10 weeks.

“The classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic, and mental development, and that’s why we are working hard to ensure students can safely spend the next school year with their teachers and classmates,” Education Minister Rob Fleming says in a release. “We were the only jurisdiction in Canada that brought students back into the classroom provincewide before the end of the school year and this has given us valuable information that we are using to develop our plans, ensuring health and safety at schools remain paramount.”

All boards of education and independent school authorities will continue to be required to implement a suite of health and safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the recently updated guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control.

Fleming said the province will make accommodations for students who can’t be part of learning groups, such as those who are immunocompromised.

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“We know how important it is for children to be back in school — to both support their emotional and mental health and their ability to socialize and to learn,” says Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“Being back in school is also crucial to support many parents in being able to work, but we must do it safely. We ask for families and workplaces to continue to be flexible as we come into the fall. We’ve put a lot of thoughtful work and consideration into reopening schools this fall and in making sure we’re supporting children in ways that keep them, the people who teach them and our communities safe.”

Staff and students must also assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19, says the province. If any student or staff member has even mild symptoms, arrangements will be
made for that person to return home.

‘Safety first’

The ministry is developing operational guidelines that will further assist school districts and independent schools with their planning for September.

Families will hear from their school district or independent school throughout the summer with updated health and safety guidelines for elementary, middle and secondary schools, as well as learning groups, schedules, enrolment and registration information with the final details being submitted to the ministry and posted online by the districts on Aug. 26.

“The safety of students and staff is paramount and government will continue to make science-based decisions, following the expert advice of Dr. Henry and her public health team,” Fleming
said.

Updated health and safety measures include increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces. School districts may also install transparent barriers for people who have more contact
with others, such as front desk staff, bus drivers or food services staff.

“Older students and staff may use masks in situations where the person is interacting outside their learning group and cannot maintain physical distance for an extended period of time. This includes riding the bus to school where a student may be sitting next to a person outside of their household or learning group,” says the province.

“If students or staff are mixing outside their learning group for electives, extracurricular activities, sports or social clubs, they will need to maintain physical distancing of two metres, while younger students will be encouraged to minimize physical contact.”

Extracurricular activities can occur

Extracurricular activities in middle and secondary schools, including sports, arts or special interest clubs can occur if physical distance can be maintained between members of different learning groups.

All students and staff who have travelled outside of Canada are required to self-isolate for 14 days under both provincial and federal orders.

The June school restart saw almost 200,000 students safely return to the classroom, giving students a chance to acclimatize to new safety protocols and ensuring the province had information to plan for the 2020-21 school year.

The Ministry of Education has developed a five-stage approach to operate schools, depending on risk of transmission and direction from health authorities, ensuring school districts can make a quick transition if there is a second wave or a community outbreak.

Schools were in Stage 3 in June, with most kids in the classroom part-time. Under enhanced safety protocols, the province is now moving to Stage 2 of the education plan.

Read the province’s full report:

BC.Edu.back2school