A limited number of B.C. students could return to the classroom in June as part of a “dry run,” but kindergarten to Grade 12 classes won’t fully resume until September, the premier said Wednesday.
“We want to make sure we can get kids safely back into classrooms,” Premier John Horgan said while announcing the province’s plans to reopen. “We're not going to be forcing anyone to come back.”
Some students could return to classrooms as a “dry run” in June, Horgan said, and classrooms will be able to accommodate more students whose parents can no longer work from home.
“[Education] Minister [Rob] Fleming and I will be working to make sure students whose families need to have kids in class will have that opportunity,” Horgan said. “And we will continue to prepare for the full resumption of classes in September.”
Some B.C. public schools are open on a limited basis to support about 2,000 children of essential workers.
Fleming said last week that ministry officials are looking at allowing higher needs students to come into schools for one or two hours a day to access speech and language therapy. He is expected to release more specific timelines for schools next week, but Horgan said he does not anticipate an increase in in-class teaching until after the May long weekend.
James Taylor of the Confederation of the Parents’ Advisory Councils of Saanich said parents and students are anxiously awaiting more detail.
“I think most parents want to know the specifics and are anxious for some certainty in these very uncertain times,” said Taylor, whose son Liam is in Grade 11 at Claremont Secondary School.
“[Parents] are all getting really antsy, we’re looking for something we can plan on, but it looks like we still have to hang on a bit longer,” he said.
Once classes fully resume in September, students can expect smaller class sizes, more space between desks, limited group sizes and alternating attendance arrangements. Students and staff will be reminded to wash their hands frequently and they’ll be required to wear non-medical masks for any sports or group activities.
School districts and the Ministry of Education will encourage the use of online learning in some areas, especially for high school students. College and university students can also expect to see more online classes come September.
Schools, including post-secondary institutions, will have to carry out daily symptom screening, undertake rigorous cleaning practices and ask anyone with symptoms of a cold, flu, COVID-19 or who is coughing or sneezing not to come into the school or participate in extracurricular activities.
Daycares were not ordered to close during the state of emergency but some closed voluntarily to limit the spread of COVID-19. The provincial government provided emergency funding to ensure parents who pulled their children out of daycare temporarily could hold their spot while not paying fees.
More daycares are expected to reopen this month to accommodate parents returning to work. They will face guidelines which are similar to schools, including daily screening of children and staff for any symptoms.
Facilities are encouraged to develop a clear policy to ensure children, staff or parents with any symptoms to stay away from the daycare. Staff will also be required to do frequent cleaning to prevent the spread of germs.