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Learning groups in B.C. schools will likely be classroom-sized, smaller than 60, says Henry

Last Updated Aug 11, 2020 at 6:41 am PDT

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VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — With the first day of school only weeks away, B.C.’s top doctor is clearing up some confusion when it comes to how students and faculty will be kept apart.

The province’s return-to-school plan includes separating students and staff into cohorts, or learning groups, of about 60-120 people to minimize contact.

But Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry clarified what these numbers really mean heading into September, which she says does not mean close contact with dozens of people.

“It’s maximizing the number of people over the semester or the whole year that children will have contact with,” Henry explains. “And that includes all of the children and the staff in that maximum number. So, for most schools that would be much smaller than that.”

Henry says the groups allow recess to be staggered, as well as when students are entering and exiting school.

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If a student or staff member were to test positive for COVID-19, Henry says the response would be dependent on the circumstances, as was the case in June.

“The worst-case scenario would be that that group of 60 people would be required to self-isolate, and we need to have some flexibility in case something like that happens. But it’s much more likely that unit of learning is going to be classroom-based, and those will be a smaller unit,” she says.

Any case of COVID-19 in school will be investigated individually, Henry adds.

There has been some resistance to B.C. school starting up during the COVID-19 pandemic. A petition calling for the return to be optional or voluntary has gathered more than 30,000 signatures since it launched.

Masks in the classroom have not been mandated and Henry isn’t indicating this will change, despite increasing calls for her to do so.

“We know there is a place for masks. They are the end of our hierarchy of controls, the layer that we need – the least effective of layers that we need,” she says.

“We also know masks can interfere with the ability to learn, so I think there’s still a lot more we need to understand.”

Henry notes the safety measures in place for school will be evaluated and adapted as needed.