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B.C. delays return to school for K-12 students

Health officials say delayed start will give staff time to add additional protocols to reduce crowding

There will be a phased approach to the start of B.C. schools in the new year.

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside joined provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in a press briefing Wednesday (Dec. 29) afternoon for the announcement of a phased restart for K-12 schools in B.C. over the coming weeks. 

For children of essential workers and those with special needs, all schools will open on either Jan. 3 or 4. There will be a full return to classes for all students on Jan. 10. 

"This will give us time to add additional protocols to reduce crowding and staggered times for recess," said Henry. "It is those things that we did early on that we know can help reduce the potential for transmission within the settings."

Additionally, school administrators will use the phased approach to address issues relating to safety, absenteeism and program continuity. 

"We'll also be working very closely with public health in our schools to adjust our testing spread the strategy and to modify our public health notification," added Henry. Public health will work with administrators to put in place measures to understand how overcrowding is affecting the schools.

Whiteside noted that it is "a testament to the monumental efforts of everyone in the system that B.C. has been able to continue delivering in-class learning" and stressed the importance of face-to-face learning for "the intellectual, social and emotional development of students." 

"Schools are more than just a place of learning," she said. "They also provide important supports for students who may need a bit of extra help... whether that is in the form of mental health services or hot meals or other programs."

Over the past two weeks, the Ministry of Education staff worked with the BC Centre for Disease Control to develop enhanced safety measures that are based on public health's current knowledge of the Omicron variant. Whiteside stated that these changes will be published in an addendum to the provincial COVID-19 communicable diseases guideline.

"We know it's been a very long year for students. And while some may be excited for an extended winter break, we know that many families depend on our schools being open... and it's critical for them to have our schools running as smoothly as possible for the duration of the school year," she added. 

B.C. has reported another record-setting number of daily COVID-19 cases, with 2,944 in the past 24 hours.