All B.C. public schools will be closed for now over COVID-19 concerns
VANCOUVER -- B.C.'s public schools will be closed for now in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the province announced Tuesday.
At a news conference in Victoria, the premier called the decision to suspend classes for students in kindergarten to Grade 12 "difficult," and provided few details on when schools might resume.
"The decision on how to return will be made in partnership with school districts and independent schools," John Horgan said.
Horgan was joined by Education Minister Rob Fleming, and the province's finance minister, at an event meant to address concerns voiced by residents of B.C.
Some schools have already sent notes home with parents regarding possible exposure over the last several weeks.
Some of the region's post-secondary schools have already opted to move classes online as a result of the spread of novel coronavirus, and on Monday, the province's top doctor advised against gatherings of more than 50 people.
Following that announcement, Fleming addressed the decision to close schools.
"We’re used to schools being safe places," he said. "But as the global pandemic COVID-19 is evolving quickly and its having a growing impact in British Columbia. We have to take action today to protect our students and staff."
Fleming said the decision came after weeks of following daily updates from public health officials.
Under the direction of the provincial health officer, the government is directing all schools to "immediately" suspend in-class instructions.
'Continuity of learning' during spring break, and graduation concerns
The announcement came at a time when, Fleming said, the majority of students in B.C. were already on spring break - meaning they don't need to be sent home early, but will not be returning to classrooms at the end of the holiday.
Most students in B.C. were scheduled to return to school on March 30. Instead, it's not yet known when they'll be back.
Those who weren't already on March break are also being told to suspend classes indefinitely.
Anticipating concerns from parents and students about what this may mean come report card time, he said, "I want to reassure parents and students: Every student will receive a final mark. All students who are on track to move to the next grade in fall will do so."
Every Grade 12 student who is eligible to graduate this year will graduate, he said. All students on track to finish their grade and move on to the next one in the fall will do so.
For students in grades 10 and 11, graduation assessments will be postponed.
Fleming also tasked schools and school districts with creating a plan for "continuity of learning" during the weeks off.
It is not yet clear what the initiatives could look like.
A level of care for some students
While he didn't outline his plan, Fleming said his ministry is working to ensure "some level of service" for children of people "who are performing essential services on the front line to combat COVID-19."
That list, he said, includes teachers, health care workers, first responders and pharmacists.
Fleming did not provide details on what that service would look like, or further information on who would be eligible. It appeared those plans were still being developed.