B.C. intends to have primary and middle students back in school full-time this fall, according to the province’s education minister.
Rob Fleming said he is preparing for a formal announcement next week with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, but noted the goal is to fully return as many students to classrooms in September rather than use a hybrid model of part-time attendance and part-time virtual learning.
“Certainly for elementary and middle schools, we’d like to see schools open 100 per cent for all students,” Fleming said. "There is some discussion about alternate arrangements for secondary students, with those discussions ongoing. And that’ll be part of the update that we give out that government and I will do with Dr. Henry next week.”
B.C. closed schools in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, except for children of essential workers. It reopened classrooms part-time in June, using a hybrid model in which students spent part of the week in class and part of the week learning online.
Fleming pointed to “many concerns” teachers and parents have about the loss of learning opportunities when students are not in class full time. Fleming said he’s looking at how other school systems have used cohort models — limiting the mix of students and staff into smaller groups, so that if someone gets sick, the spread is isolated.
“We’re seeking to move ahead to having kids back in class, full-time,” said Fleming. “Of course it’s going to be in a new normal situation. Schools will look different.”
Once students return to school, they will not be required to wear masks, Henry said.
“No, there will not be a mandate for kids to wear a mask at school,” said Henry, adding physical distancing is a better safety measure. “Masks for long periods of time are not recommended by anybody in any situation.”
The government has faced increasing pressure from parents looking to plan their return to work and seeking certainty for school or child care when summer break ends in six weeks.
B.C.’s chronic shortage of child-care spaces will not be solved by this fall when school returns, the minister of state for child care, Katrina Chen, said.
“I definitely know parents’ struggles,” said Chen, who is also trying to get her young child into a care space. “There have been historically a shortage of child care spaces, and before- and after-school spaces, in B.C.”
When pressed by journalists as to any government plan to alleviate child care pressures this fall, Chen repeated that “we’ve always had a shortage of child-care spaces in this province” adding she would do her best to look at opportunities for partnerships with school districts, municipalities and First Nations to try to open more spaces.
Chen said the government is trying to work with school districts to open up additional child care and pointed to 406 new spaces at schools in Nanaimo and Ladysmith announced Wednesday.