B.C. elementary schools to reopen in June, but will students return?
VANCOUVER -- In the coming weeks, some B.C. parents will have a decision to make: send their children back to school for a few weeks of in-class learning, or keep them at home until the end of the academic year.
"All students who want to, from (grades) K through 5 will be invited back on a 50 per cent basis, so each district will figure out what that looks like for them. So it might mean alternate days," said Stephanie Higginson, the president of the B.C. School Trustees Association. "And Grade 6s and 7s who are more middle school come back one day a week."
The in-class learning will resume in early June, but it's not mandatory.
"We are not going to be forcing anyone to come back, but Minister (of Education Rob) Fleming and I will be working to make sure students whose families need to have kids in class will have that opportunity," said Premier John Horgan.
"There are lots of reasons parents may choose not to send their kids back," said B.C. Teachers Federation president Teri Mooring. "We're also going to see some vulnerable workers, some vulnerable teachers (who are) not going to be able to return because they have underlying conditions."
Higginson says districts are looking at countries that have already resumed classes for clues on how many kids could return.
"In Denmark, it was sort of like 30 per cent came back," she said. "Then, within a few days it was 40 per cent, then within a week, 50 per cent. And I think they're up to about 75 per cent of the students are back."
School districts have been working on a plan to return students to school for weeks, and a big focus has been on making sure kids and staff can practice physical distancing. They're encouraged by the success of in-class learning for the children of essential workers, who returned to school weeks ago.
"It's been safe," Higginson said. "There hasn't been any transmission issues. There hasn't been any outbreak issues."
As for expanding to all kindergarten to Grade 5 students, Suzanne Hoffman, superintendent of schools in Vancouver, said many details still need to be worked out.
"We first need to determine who of our students are returning to school so that we can figure out the logistics of what that will look like with all the health and safety protocols in place," she said Thursday on CTV Morning Live.
How to continue online learning for kids who don't return is another hurdle. Mooring says teachers who return to the classroom "can't be expected to teach everyday in school and also provide the same kind of online learning or remote learning that's currently happening."
Students and teachers who do head back in class in June will notice some big changes.
"We are looking at protocols … gradual, staggered entry, probably during the course of the day, or staggered recess or lunch time, what the arrival and departure protocols would be, and also ensure we have adequate hand-washing, hand sanitizer in place in all of our schools," Hoffman said.
Districts are looking at taking instruction outdoors and into other areas of schools, including libraries, to allow for more spacing. There will also be enhanced cleaning.
While students would only return for a few weeks before the start of the summer, Mooring said there's "a lot of value" to that.
"It is for a short period of time, but it will at least give some students a chance to finish off the school year on a somewhat normal note, and then set us up for what's going to happen in September," Mooring said.
While a precise return-to-school date has yet to be announced, Higginson says parents should expect to hear from their children's schools soon. And they'll be asked to make that decision: keep them home or send them back to class.