Premier John Horgan told B.C. teachers Wednesday that increasing the number of students in classes in June will not compromise their safety.
Last week, Premier Horgan announced students in the province will be given the option to return to classes beginning June 1, after schools were closed to the majority of students back in March to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19. Most students have been learning online since then, save for a few thousand children of essential workers and others with high-learning needs.
When asked about teachers who are concerned about their own safety in a classroom setting during Wednesday's weekly press conference, Horgan said the reopening of schools will be done safely.
“I want to assure teachers, I want to assure parents that we would not have opened up schools again in June if we did not believe it was safe to do so,” he said. “We've worked with public health officials, we've worked with WorkSafeBC who's in the business of making sure that workers always go to work safe and come home the way they left.”
Horgan acknowledged that some staff may feel anxious having students return to their classes, after weeks of self-isolation.
“We've tried to reduce that anxiety as much as possible by putting in a plan that will allow for social distancing, physical distancing, for teachers and kids,” Horgan said, but it's unclear what the plan will look like in practice.
Parents who decide to send their kids back to school will see students in Kindergarten to Grade 5 return twice a week, while those in Grade 6 and 7 will return just once per week. High school students will continue to work mostly remotely.
An online petition to stop the reopening of schools in B.C. until September had more than 19,700 signatures as of Thursday morning.
Horgan called the few weeks of returning to classes in June a “dry run” for staff to prepare for a larger return to classes come September, and “to get a sense of what a physical distancing school will look like.”
“Each school district, each school for that matter, will have different configurations of how they'll operate in June,” he said, adding that there will be new “innovations” in how schools will function as a result of the return in June.
“There's apprehension, absolutely, among parents, among some teachers, and among some support staff, but there is a common focus on making sure that we can reopen our K-12 system in a way that's safe, and we would not be doing it if we didn't have the approval of the public health officers and WorkSafeBC having a look at what the procedures are going to be to protect those people that work within the system.”