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B.C. petition against mandatory return to school gathers thousands of signatures

Last Updated Aug 4, 2020 at 10:17 am PST

FILE (iStock Photo)

Thousands have signed a petition calling for B.C.'s back-to-school plan to be voluntary

The petition says the province's plan doesn't go far enough to ensure student safety

B.C.'s back-to-school plan would see students return to classes starting Sept. 8

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. parents’ anxiety over how safe sending their kids back to school in just five short weeks is becoming more apparent, with a petition calling on the province to make its plan voluntary gaining steam.

The province’s plan will see students from K to Grade 12 return to in-class learning come Sept. 8. As part of that plan, kids will be encouraged to physically distance and modifications to scheduling and cleaning will be in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

However, with B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming saying all students are expected to take part in the return to school as part of its coronavirus response, well over 8,000 people have already signed on to a petition saying what’s proposed so far is “extremely irresponsible.”

“The government is pressuring our kids to go back to school even though it is still unsafe as COVID-19 cases are increasing consistently on a daily basis, and yet they just keep repeating that ‘this is a robust plan’, in hope for our buy-in,” the change.org petition reads.

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It says the “learning groups idea” — which lumps together up to 120 students in older grades in what’s being described as cohorts — runs counter to the “fewer faces, bigger spaces” idea being pushed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The petition goes on to say the current mandates for safety barriers and masks don’t go nearly far enough, and cites CDC guidelines touting the effectiveness of masks when physical distancing can be difficult. It points to other jurisdictions across the country and the world where physical barriers have been installed at desks and where students are required to wear face masks when leaving their desks.

“It is irresponsible to require students to return to class at full capacity in September 2020, despite acknowledging that social distancing is not possible,” the petition adds.

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The province is setting aside $45.6 million to support schools with cleaning and other measures. Of that total, $2.2 million is expected to be spent on ensuring face masks are available, the province said in late July while unveiling its plan.

Regardless, those behind the petition don’t believe everything is being done to keep kids safe, saying the decision to get students back into the classroom under the current plan is “unsafe and will put many people’s lives at risk, especially high risk individuals in students’ households.”

It adds that making the return to school “mandatory is a suppression of parents’ rights to keep their own kids safe.”

Meanwhile, two new studies from the U.K. and Australia suggest that school openings can be done safely, but testing and contact tracing will have to be significantly ramped up to avoid a devastating second wave of COVID-19.