BC’s education minister said most students will be returning to the classroom in September.
During a July 29 briefing, Rob Fleming said efforts to get kindergarten to grade 12 students back into classrooms is being spurred by the need for young people to interact with their peers.
The plan also comes as the economy re-emerges from a COVID-19-induced lockdown, leaving parents with increased child-care pressures.
“We know schools can safely reopen if community transmission is low,” stated provincial health officer Bonnie Henry at the briefing.
She said students will be divided into cohorts or learning groups of students and staff that primarily only interact with each other throughout the school year.
For elementary students, those groups will be made up of about 60 people, although Henry emphasized they will not all be in the same classroom.
Secondary schools will see learning groups of up to 120 people.
Henry added that despite the large size of the groups, not everyone will have contact with each other each day.
School District 47 superintendent of schools Dr. Jay Yule said the BC government and public health officer have provided the school district with a restart framework and guidelines to have students back in schools at 100 per cent in the fall.
“Locally, we have to take these guidelines and provide a local plan to be submitted in mid-August,” said Yule. “We will take time to consult with all our stakeholder groups to ensure a smooth safe transition to school in the fall.”
Powell River and District Teachers’ Association president Izi Loveluck said she thinks it’s a bit preliminary to have the plan released because it seems to her that there is a lot more planning that needs to be done.
“We need to more fully understand what government means with the cohort model,” said Loveluck. “I have every confidence in Dr. Bonnie Henry, however, I’m not sure how well she understands public schools.”
Loveluck said she would like the government to spend the time between now and September to more fully articulate a plan.
“They do have a committee working and they have working groups of specialist teachers, and I would hope they get more input,” said Loveluck.
She said locally, teachers will do their best to provide input into the school district’s operation.
“Thus far, the district has been very compassionate and very collaborative,” said Loveluck. “I appreciate the fact that teachers are working with an administration that cares about staff and students.”
Loveluck said she will be monitoring the situation closely and providing input wherever possible. She said she thinks it’s important to have students in school, for many reasons.
“It’s not just education; it’s the socialization,” added Loveluck. “We have a lot of vulnerable students in our school district and this pandemic has made them even more vulnerable.
“We can’t fix everything but we can at least try and provide a safe environment where learning will take place, where children’s social and emotional needs can be met as well. Any plan moving forward needs to consider those factors fully.”
Loveluck said she is pleased to hear the government is putting in additional funding for schools to support the availability of personal protective equipment as requested, and also to support technology for families who need it. While School District 47 provided technology to students this past spring, Loveluck said the school district just didn’t have enough pieces of equipment so that every kid received one.
Moving forward, Loveluck said planning will continue with collaboration with the provincial committee and working groups, and she fully expects to be collaborating here in Powell River. She said she and Yule are in regular contact and the main goal is to make sure everybody is safe and happy.
~ With files from Business in Vancouver.