Beginning on June 1st, schools will be opening their doors for voluntary in-person classes for K-12 students in B.C., with strict guidelines in place to keep transmission risks as low as possible.
The schedule will have students return on a part-time basis if their parents choose to allow their children to attend, with the goal of ramping up to full-time classes in September.
“British Columbians have worked hard to flatten our curve. As we move into the next phase of our pandemic plan after the May long weekend, the science shows us that we’re ready to bring students back to school safely on a gradual and part-time basis,” said Premier John Horgan. “This will be welcome news for many families who have struggled to adjust to remote and online learning, and for parents who are going back to work. At every step, we will move slowly and make health and safety our top priority. B.C. has done well under the guidance of our provincial health officials, and now is the time to take this next step together.”
A number of standards will be in place for schools, including limiting the number of students in the building at a time. The B.C. government said that it will be up to individual school districts to determine scheduling and transportation arrangements. As a result, many students in kindergarten to grade 5 will likely go to school on alternating days, or half-time, and students in grades 6 to 12 may be attending school about once a week.
The provincial government has set out guidelines that all school districts must implement to reduce the risks of COVID-19:
- Desks will be spaced apart and avoiding groups or gatherings of students in hallways or other common areas.
- High-contact surfaces like doorknobs, toilet seats, keyboards and desks will be cleaned at least twice a day and the school building will be cleaned at least once a day.
- Students, educators and staff will be required to clean their hands before entering school property, and there will be more hand-sanitizing and cleaning stations available.
- Staggered drop-offs, lunch and recess breaks, with increased outside time.
- Staff and students (or their parents or guardians) must assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19. If any student or staff member has even mild symptoms, arrangements will be made for that person to be returned home.
- One student per seat on school buses, unless children are from the same house, with plexiglass separating the bus driver from students.
- Students or employees should not share food or personal items like phones, pens or pencils. Clear protocols also need to be in place for the safe and healthy handling of all food items.
Horgan said that students and parents do not need to feel pressure to make the decision to attend classes or not, as online education options will remain accessible from home. Enhanced cleaning standards and physical distancing guidelines will be adhered to within schools.
“Our top priority is to make sure schools are safe. Rigorous cleaning is in place, and all schools will be following the guidelines put in place by Dr. Henry and WorkSafe BC,” said Horgan. “It is voluntary, but I believe that it’s going to be a net positive for the kids of British Columbia.”
As part of B.C’s gradual approach to opening up, the Ministry of Education has developed a five-stage plan for operating schools, depending on transmission risk. Schools will have plans for each stage to prepare for a change in the risk of transmission, a second wave or a community outbreak.
The Province said that each school district’s plans must be approved by the Ministry before moving into the next stage.
“The plans will be posted on each district’s website for families to access. The ministry will support boards of education and independent school authorities in building these plans, and operations during the pandemic will be regularly monitored,” said the Province.
The B.C. government said that in the coming weeks, schools will be contacting families to arrange for children to attend in-class instruction. It added that if parents have not heard from the school by May 22nd, they should contact their school’s principal.