Students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 will return to classes on September 8, 2020, the province has announced, but things will look a little different than from before the coronavirus pandemic.
“The classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development, and that’s why we are working hard to ensure students can safely spend the next school year with their teachers and classmates,” Rob Fleming, BC Minister of Education, said in a statement this week.
Following the advice of health officials, students will be organized into “learning groups.” These are groups of students–60 people in middle school and 120 people in secondary school–who will be able to interact with each other during breaks between classes in areas like the gym and playground.
It’s a new concept for the province, but experts believe learning groups will make it easier to limit the spread of coronavirus should new cases of COVID-19 be detected.
“We’ve put a lot of thoughtful work and consideration into reopening schools this fall and in making sure we’re supporting children in ways that keep them, the people who teach them and our communities safe,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer.
The province will also make an investment of $45.6 million to ensure that high-contact surfaces are cleaned rigorously and frequently, hand-hygiene stations are widely available and masks can be obtained by whoever needs one. Any student, teacher or worker feeling even mild symptoms will be urged to stay home.
Not everyone is fully satisfied with the plan though. The BC Teachers’ Federation is calling for the province to go even further and make sure class sizes are as small as possible so that people can adequately social distance.
“We all share the same goal — getting students and teachers safely back into class — but there’s still a lot to do before we can say with confidence that September will be safe and successful,” president Teri Mooring told Global News.
Nearly 200,000 students returned to schools on a part-time basis in June, and there were just two confirmed cases of COVID-19 that didn’t lead to further spread.