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B.C. back to school plan: No more learning cohorts, remote learning

Last Updated Jun 22, 2021 at 10:39 am PDT

Summary

Smaller learning cohorts, introduced last year in effort to curb COVID spread, will be a thing of the past by September

Mask-wearing standards in schools this fall will be established later this summer

Students will be back in class full-time in September, with remote learning no longer an option

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Things will be nearly back to normal when B.C. students go back to school in September, with the province doing away with learning cohorts, which were introduced last year in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“Students will be back in the classroom for full time in-person instruction,” Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said Thursday.

“Students will no longer be grouped into cohorts or learning groups, pending a further public health guidance. It’s also expected the current restrictions on gatherings, extracurricular activities and sports will be relaxed in time for the new school year,” she added.

Remote learning will no longer be an option.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says field trips and assemblies will also likely happen again in the next school year.

“We’ll be looking though, at some of those crowding points and making sure that the mixing and mingling in the hallways is still measured,” Henry said.

“That might mean timing of classes, timing of people coming and going, [and] how many people are coming into the school on a daily basis,” she said, noting kids learn in many different ways.

“We know that some children learn best through things like music or physical education, so we need to have those opportunities for children to learn in the ways that that works for them. And those are important parts of the school year so yes, we see those coming back,” she said.

Mask-wearing standards in schools will be set later this summer.

According to B.C.’s restart plan, masks could go from “mandatory” in indoor public spaces to “recommended” as early as July 1. If all goes to plan, they could become a “personal choice” by early September.

The back to school plan calls for daily health checks to remain in place, with Whiteside adding staff and students will be expected to stay home when they feel sick and be diligent with handwashing.

“With more than 50 per cent of children aged 12 to 17 already receiving their first dose of vaccine and those numbers continue to grow, we can plan for a much more typical school year starting in the fall,” Whiteside said.

Teri Mooring, head of the BC Teachers’ Federation, supports many of the decisions for the fall including doing away with cohorts, and is relieved that not everything is set in stone.

“I understand that some decisions will be made in August, and I do think that’s important because we don’t know where we’re going to be at in August and September. And what we’ve learned this year is the pandemic is unpredictable,” she said.

B.C.’s top doctor says we are in a time of transition.

“We can safely restart and get some of those important social connections back together,” Henry said. “We are gradually progressing with our B.C. restart program, with a focus on putting the pandemic behind us, and learning how we can move ahead and live with COVID-19, in a way that is much more fulsome that we have been.”

If cases remain low and the number of people receiving vaccine doses rises, virtually all of B.C.’s COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted by September.

“We are on a very good trajectory, but I will reassure everybody, we will be watching this carefully and we’ll continue to do so as we move through the summer and we will be developing our plans in concert with all of the team sat the provincial level to make sure that schools are ready. In the fall, planning will continue to be based on evidence on data and on learning as we go,” Henry said.

On Monday, the province recorded 68 new infections, the lowest daily figure since September. On Wednesday, B.C. recorded 113 new COVID-19 infections and four deaths.

The District Parent Advisory Council in Surrey, the province’s largest school district, has been urging decision makers in the back to school plan to be more proactive than reactive.

“I think they also would like the same safety protocols in place,” explained Rani Sanghera, who speaks for the council. “I think … everything that we’ve been asking for — better ventilation, handwashing stations in portables. I mean, those are just basic needs that should be there, regardless of the pandemic.”

She says overall, parents seem to be feeling “better” about sending their children back to the classrooms for the upcoming school year, given vaccination rates.

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The province has also announced $25 million in one-time funding for additional supports.

“The 25.6 million in new one-time funding will be used to continue to enhance cleaning measures in schools, support the continuation of rapid response teams, and support Indigenous students affected by the pandemic, as well as improving mental health services and supports for students and staff to address the impacts of isolation stress and anxiety due to the pandemic,” Whiteside said.

Mooring is pleased to hear of this funding.

With files from Mike Lloyd and Hana Mae Nassar