VANCOUVER -- B.C.'s education ministry announced its plan Wednesday for a gradual return to class for students in the fall.

Education Minister Rob Fleming first hinted at the delay in a news conference Tuesday and the ministry confirmed the next day that the first week of class in September will include a "gradual restart to allow extra time to orient students and staff on the new health and safety measures in place." 

While all staff will meet with school health and safety committees on Sept. 8, students won't head back to class for orientation until Sept. 10. 

At that time, they'll find out who is their learning group, familiarize themselves with new safety protocols and practise new routines. Fleming said it'll be up to districts and schools to decide how to set up those orientations.

"We arrived at the two days after discussions with all the leaders of all the major partner groups in B.C.," Fleming said to media Wednesday. 

"This is the best scenario I think to continue to build confidence and familiarity with the protocols."

Fleming said the time away from class has "taken a heavy toll in families."

"There is learning loss that we're very concerned about. In-class instruction between teachers and students is critically important at every grade level … there's lots of changes going on in students' lives and the in-class instruction emphasis is one that we feel is important for the well-being of students," Fleming said. 

"We can't sacrifice 18 months of education. We have to learn how to do things safely during this pandemic."

Even so, Fleming said there are some options if parents decide to keep their kids at home. 

"Districts are very mindful of the some of the decisions that families are making and they're doing their best right now to provide them with complete, accurate information about what the local schools are going to look like," he said. 

The ministry says school districts were given "readiness checklists" earlier this week to help them update their health and safety plans. 

Additionally, operational guidelines will be made available by next week, and will include tips on ensuring students who need extra support are prioritized, supporting mental health of students and minimizing physical contact. 

"We're really pleased to see very detailed planning going on at the school district level right now," Fleming said. 

Fleming added that some of parents' questions can't be answered yet, but schools are required to post their district-approved plans for the start of the school year by Aug. 26.