British Columbia is moving ahead with its education re-start plan that includes heightened safety measures increased funding additional to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Education Minister Rob Fleming made the announcement Wednesday, saying the classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development and adding the province is working hard to ensure children can spend the school year with their teachers and classmates.
Just how many students will actually be in class remains to be seen.
A Léger and Association for Canadian Studies survey released this week found many Canadians sitting on the fence about sending their children back to school.
And, the poll found, just 40 per cent of B.C. parents would send their kids back to school if there was some kind of classroom instruction at least a few days a week — lower than the national average of 59 per cent.
In B.C., 48 per cent of parents said they were still undecided–compared to 23 per cent nationally
Fleming made his announcement accompanied by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who expressed “great confidence” in the plan, saying she believes schools can safely reopen as long as community transmission remains low.
“We cannot predict the future. We are planning for a number of scenarios — if there is an increase in cases, we’ll review,” she said, adding there was no “magic number” of cases that would cause provincial officials to re-assess their plan.
Under the reopening plan, elementary and middle school learning groups will have a maximum of 60 students, while secondary school learning groups will have up to 120 students.
Fewer students will be allowed in the learning groups for younger students, as it is more difficult for them to practise safe social distancing and proper handwashing, she said.
The government is putting up $45.6 million to ensure safety measures, including increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces, an increased number of hand-hygiene stations and the availability of masks.
Staff and students, or their parents, will be expected to assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19.
Masks will not be mandatory, but will be recommended in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Henry and Fleming emphasized throughout Wednesday’s news conference that there is no replacement for in-class learning, recognizing that parents trying to manage at-home education has put enormous strain on families throughout the pandemic.
“The impact of closing of schools can be lifelong for some children. We know there’s been an increase in anxiety, in mental health issues for young people, with families that have had challenges with having children at home.” said Henry.
“We think this is a reasonable approach. It is going to take some adjustment.”
With files from Michelle Ghoussoub of CBC News and The Canadian Press