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Classes at all B.C. schools suspended indefinitely

Classes have been suspended in schools across B.C. in another move to curtail the spread of COVID-19, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced Tuesday.
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VICTORIA, B.C.: March, 17, 2020 - Premier John Horgan, Minister of Education Rob Flemming (at podium) and Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier Carole James make an announcement about the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the effects it is having on the public. VICTORIA, B.C. March 17, 2020. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST). For City story by Stand Alone.

Classes have been suspended in schools across B.C. in another move to curtail the spread of COVID-19, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced Tuesday.

Horgan said the decision on when to return will be made in partnership with school districts and independent schools.

The decision affects close to 548,000 students in 60 districts in B.C.’s public school system.

Education Minister Rob Fleming said one of his responsibilities is ensuring that students, staff and families in the school community are as safe as possible.

“We’re used to schools being safe places, where kids learn and grow and socialize,” he said. “But as the global pandemic, COVID-19, is evolving quickly and is having a growing impact in British Columbia, we have to take action today to protect our students and staff and keep our schools safe.”

Fleming offered assurances that every student in the education system will receive a final mark.

“For Grades 10 and 11 students, graduation assessments will be postponed,” he said. “I know that parents of students in Grade 12 will have unique concerns — every student eligible to graduate from Grade 12 this year will graduate.”

Fleming said the ministry is working with post-secondary institutions to ensure that graduating students transition successfully.

He said schools are already considering issues such as meal programs and child-care services based at schools, although not everything has been figured out.

“We don’t have all the answers today,” Fleming said. “We’re in a fast-moving situation.”

Fleming said the decision to suspend in-class instruction at schools is supported by “all of the education partners, teachers and stakeholders in the system.”

Saanich School District superintendent Dave Eberwein said he will speak with Education Ministry staff by phone about the next steps. The form that non-classroom instruction will take is still to be determined, Eberwein said.

“There’s a variety of things happening out there in school districts right now, from teachers using Google Classroom to their own website to different Moodle platforms.”

He said the district also has an online-learning facility known as the South Island Distance Education School.

Technical details will have to be worked out if online options are to take the place of classroom instruction, Eberwein said.

“There’s lots to work out as to what’s possible.”

Angela Carmichael, president of the George Jay Elementary School Parent Advisory Council, said she was happy to hear about the suspension of classes. “It was the best decision, I think, to slow the spread,” said Carmichael, who has a child at George Jay and a child at Central Middle School. “I’m actually really, really happy that the whole world is kind of stepping up and saying: ‘OK, we can prevent this from becoming much worse.’ ”

The move to close schools follows the direction of provincial medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Fleming said.

He noted that the vast majority of students in B.C.’s public system were already on spring break when Tuesday’s announcement was made, while a small number of private schools were still in session.

Fleming said his ministry is urging schools and school districts to begin planning now to ensure a continuity of learning while in-class instruction is suspended indefinitely.

School districts and independent schools should also have plans to maintain some level of service for children of people who are performing essential services on the front line to combat COVID-19, he said, including medical-health professionals, first responders and pharmacists.

“We will continue to work in consultation with our education partners as we plan how we will provide ongoing education services,” he said. “We’ll be in frequent contact with school districts and the school authorities to ensure that we work through this challenge together.

“We will return to regular school life down the road.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com