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Dr. Bonnie Henry, John Horgan stress safe September return to school possible

Last Updated Aug 7, 2020 at 12:04 am PDT

Summary

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Premier John Horgan both said Thursday they are confident in the return to school plan

Henry and Horgan both emphasized the need for safety plans to be tailored to each district, school, classroom

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Faced with questions about the province’s back to school plan Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry insisted a safe return is possible.

During her daily briefing, she stressed that work is ongoing to make sure a Sept. 8 return to class will address the specific needs of each district, school, and classroom.

“People are thinking of the school that they left in March. It is different now. Teachers and educators and the people in the schools are looking at how they can — and we’ve seen it around the world, we’ve learned from other places, we’ve learned from June — yes you can make a classroom safe,” Henry explained.

“It means taking out lots of things that may have been in there before, it means thinking differently. There’s lots of innovation that is going into those things so I would say to those teachers and parents who are concerned — connect with your school district, connect with your teachers and your school because those are the things that are happening right now

Henry said closing schools “was a decision we made incredibly seriously, and thoughtfully,” and assured that the decision to reopen was made similarly.

The risk to children’s health from COVID-19 is another factor she said is informing decision-making, noting no child has yet been hospitalized in B.C.

“There are things that we are still learning, but we know that the severity in children is very mild with this virus, particularly young children. We know that we have not had any children under the age of 19 in this country who have died from this virus,” she said.

Henry encouraged flexibility and cooperation as plans continue to be finalized.

“This is all a learning environment that children, and educators, and public health will be working on together and will be monitoring and will be caring for these communities as we go into the fall. We do need to remember that school has never been a zero-risk environment when it comes to infectious diseases,” she notes.

Henry, who announced 47 new cases of the coronavirus for the second day in a row, reiterated the best way to protect children is to minimize community spread.

Premier John Horgan, while announcing a new regional cancer centre in Surrey on Thursday, also said he’s confident in the plan.

But, he added, the province is also ready to pivot from it, if necessary.

“And if there is new information as the summer progresses, as we get into the first days or weeks of the school year, we will amend and adapt. Every community will have to respond differently,” he said.

“I want parents to know that we would not be putting their children at risk if we thought there was an overwhelming risk,” he said.

Going back to class in September will be an unprecedented challenge, he added.

“But I’m as confident as I can be, based on the information I have today, that every effort to get this right is being made, and we can draw parallels to other activities and try and bring them back into a classroom context.”

School is to start Sept. 8. The province has not recorded fewer than 20 daily cases of COVID-19 in more than two weeks.

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Horgan said families with concerns, health or otherwise, still have a choice rather than have students attend classes in person.

“Every school is different, every family is different, as well, and people will have to make choices in the best interest of their of their family units in their community, and I and I respect that,” he said.

Horgan reiterated the goal is to ensure most families are comfortable with returning to school.

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. 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.