B.C. students and schoolchildren will have the option to return to the classroom part-time starting June 1, premier John Horgan said Friday.
Horgan said the program will be completely voluntary, and the choice to participate will be completely in the hands of individual parents.
Officials warn, however, that the reopened schools will look different from before COVID-19. Student numbers will be limited in schools (under 50% for kindergarten to Grade 5 and 20% for Grade 6 and above), things like lunch breaks/pick-up/drop-off will be staggered, and parents will be required to self-check for flu-like symptoms every morning.
The guidelines mean that students Grade 5 and under who choose to return will be in class 2-3 days a week, and those from Grade 6-12 will be in school one day per week.
Other measures will include school buses with one student per seat, plexiglass separating drivers, encouraged outdoor time and avoidance of clustered activities. There will also be “rigorous” sanitation and cleaning procedures for schools and - of course - an increased focus on hand-washing.
“Things will be very strict, and it needs to be,” said B.C. education minister Rob Fleming. “We also need to remember a lot of young children returning to school will have experienced stress and anxiety in their lives because of the pandemic, and it’s important kids get this type of support from schools, as well.”
Horgan said the gradual reopening starting in June will pave the way for a full reopening in September, but it is important that parents feel comfortable with sending children to school before that happens.
As such, remote learning programs launched during the COVID lockdown will continue - so students who choose not to come to school will not see any disruptions in their educations.
“It’s our genuine desire to make sure no one feels pressured to do it,” Horgan said, adding that the province has consulted with school boards across the province for months to ensure a uniform launch of the re-start. “I understand parents and children are anxious about going back to classrooms, and we want to assure you that we would not be making this announcement today if we felt there is an undue risk to the health and well-beings of the youngsters going into our schools and the adults.”
Schools will contact local parents by May 22 on the specific plans for each facility’s reopening, Fleming said.