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Start of school will be delayed for B.C. students

Last Updated Aug 11, 2020 at 8:39 pm PDT

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming. (Courtesy Rob Fleming, Facebook)
Summary

Education Minister Rob Fleming confirmed the start date will not be Sept. 8, as previously announced

It's important school "staff have a couple of days" before welcoming back kids to classes, says education minister

Teachers need a few more days to prep: union

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — The start of the school year in B.C. will be delayed for students due to ongoing preparations linked to COVID-19.

Education Minister Rob Fleming confirmed Tuesday the return to in-class learning will not be Sept. 8, as previously announced.

He said it’s important “staff have a couple of days” before welcoming back kids to classes.

“Really, the idea is to get staff back together, whether it’s support staff, teachers, administrators, to finalize how the school operations are going to work,” Fleming said.

“Starting up school in a pandemic year requires some additional scheduling and logistical concerns in operations, so really the idea is to get staff back together — whether it’s support staff, teachers and administrators — to finalize how the school operations will work, a thorough review of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control guidelines and then to accept students back later in the first week of school,” Fleming said.

“Those discussions are ongoing and we want to respect the advice that we’re getting from organizations like the BC Teacher’s Federation, CUPE BC, superintendents association and principals and vice-principals among others, so that is something that is under discussion right now with the steering committee we have.”

The duration of the delay has not been set, nor has a return date for students been picked.

However, Fleming said the return will be staged and gradual, and that feedback led to the change.

The province announced its return-to-school plan last month. It called for having most students back in classes full-time starting this fall.

However, B.C. teachers thought the plan needed more work.

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The BC Teachers’ Federation, which represents more than 40,000 teachers, had been demanding more time to get ready.

But BCTF president Teri Mooring said safety is a priority and more time will help with that.

“So teachers exited the school year at the end of June, you know, there were a set of stages. We thought we’re going to be consistent and then, they changed in the middle of the summer, so we think there’s going to need to be some necessary planning time — training time,” she added.

Mooring said key issues still needing to be resolved include making sure class sizes stay small.

“Some people are still going to be quite nervous, and that’s completely understandable because we are in a pandemic and it’s very uncertain,” she said. “But we need to know that all safety precautions that need to be put in place are in place.”

She said teachers just need a few more days to get ready.

Students returned to school on a part-time, voluntary basis in June, but the province reported some challenges with remote learning.

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

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 included $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, according to the province.

Fleming said a health and safety team is looking at a mask-wearing policy, which will be part of school protocols.

He added, however, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been clear that all-day mask wearing for students, especially the youngest ones, is not part of the plan.

He also said before- and after-school care will be in place by fall, and that the province is working with programs in all districts for how they can plan to keep kids in their cohorts.

Fleming added improving the physical space, including ventilation, is underway.