Most B.C. students return to school to learn full-time in class in September

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VANCOUVER – Most students in British Columbia will be able to return to school full-time after Labor Day, the province’s education ministry said on Wednesday. In March, students in British Columbia did not return to class after spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic and instead classes were held virtually. On June 1, some students returned to class part-time.

But officials said at a press conference on Wednesday that with improved security measures most students would be able to return to classroom learning on September 8.

“The classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development, and that is why we are working hard to ensure that students can safely spend the next school year with their teachers and their classmates, ”Education Minister Rob Fleming said in a statement. Release.

“We were the only jurisdiction in Canada to reintegrate students into classrooms across the province before the end of the school year, which gave us valuable information that we use to develop our plans, ensuring that the health and safety in schools remains paramount. ”

Part of the province’s plan includes organizing students into “learning groups,” with cohesive staff and students, to reduce the number of people coming into contact with each other.

“The principle of these learning groups is to create groups of students and staff who will stay together throughout the school year or term and who will primarily interact with each other,” said the Dr Bonnie Henry Wednesday.

“Although they are not in the same classroom, the learning groups will be able to connect with each other during breaks in common areas and in places like the playground, then the gymnasium or the library. .

Henry said this also means that in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, transmission will be limited.

Henry explained that in elementary and middle schools each learning group will have a maximum of 60 people. For secondary schools, learning groups will be up to 120 people and the schedules may need to be adjusted to reflect these numbers.

Henry said the numbers are smaller for younger students because they tend to have a harder time keeping physically away.

“It’s a maximum. And that doesn’t mean you will be in contact with all of these people every day, ”she said.

In addition, staff and students will also need to self-assess daily for symptoms of COVID-19 and stay home even with mild symptoms.

“Even though we’ve seen an uptick in recent weeks, we know we’ve flattened the curve here in BC and we know we have what it takes to continue to keep our transmission rates low,” Henry said. .

The province says it is investing $ 45.6 million as part of its COVID-19 action plan to support school districts at the start of the year. This funding will be used to ensure increased cleaning and more available hand hygiene stations. Masks will also be available on request, but will not be required.

“We have put a lot of work and thought into reopening schools this fall and making sure that we support children in a way that keeps them safe, the people who teach them and our communities,” Henry said, adding that if cases increase dramatically in the fall, schedules may need to change again.

And, for larger schools, a mix of classroom and online learning could be implemented instead.

The Education Department says families will hear from schools throughout the summer with updated health and safety guidelines and with their learning groups and schedules. The final details will be posted on August 26.

“Too too early”: Federation of teachers

In a statement in response to the province’s announcement, BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said the plan “takes more time and a lot more work.”

“If the plan is rushed or if too many questions go unanswered, it will not be successful,” Mooring said.

“Bringing everyone back at once, even with one version of a cohort model, on the first day after the Labor Day long weekend, is too early given the many unanswered questions in the announcement. ‘today. ”

Mooring added that while she agrees that students need to return to class, teachers and support staff need time in September to adjust to the new structures and security measures.

“If school staff have the time to collaborate, train and prepare, everyone will do better,” she says.

Ahead of the Department of Education’s announcement, West Vancouver history teacher Jessica Selzer told CTV News Vancouver that she was concerned about her health and that of her mother.

“I love my job, I love teaching students, I love teaching history, but I am very worried not only for my health and safety, but also for the health and safety of my mother and also that of my students and their families, ”she said on Tuesday. .

With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Shannon Paterson

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