VANCOUVER -- The province's education minister outlined how millions in federal funding will be spent, just ahead of the first day of school for most B.C. students.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday afternoon, Minster Rob Fleming said the province has been promised up to $242.36 million.

It will receive the first half this month, which will be divided as follows:

  • $101.1 million to public school districts;
  • $7.96 million to independent schools; and
  • $12.1 million reserved for "emerging COVID-related issues" in the first half of the year.

The province will then receive an additional amount of up to $121.18 million in January from Ottawa, which Fleming says will be allocated at that time.

The money in the public school system will be split up based on enrolment.

Each school district and school will have different needs, and will spend their share of the money as required, he said.

"As we all know, B.C. is a diverse province. There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to how districts and independent schools will implement their K to 12 restart plans," Fleming said.

"It's going to look different depending on the needs of each community."

He said what the education ministry has seen from restart plans is that local solutions work best for B.C.'s students.

Among the options of what districts and independent schools can spend their funding on are:

  • Online and remote learning options
  • Hiring additional teachers and staff
  • On-call teacher and staff costs
  • Mental health support
  • Improving heating, ventilation and air conditioning, air scrubbers and associated utility costs
  • Costs associated with increased hand washing and sanitizing
  • Installing Plexiglas or other barriers
  • Adapting classrooms
  • Buying cleaning supplies and disinfecting machines
  • Buying masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment
  • Covering transport costs so fewer students are on buses
  • Supporting other transit strategies, including help for parents to cover gas
  • Costs associated with before- and after-school care

BC Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring said they’re happy the province is releasing the money to districts, and they expect to see additional teachers and support staff hired with the funding.

It’s a measure the union has been calling for as a way to ensure physical distancing can happen properly in the classroom, as well as guaranteeing hybrid and remote learning options across BC.

“We would have rather heard the minister cite really strong guidelines around how the money should be used,” Mooring said. “Unfortunately, that did not happen, and so now it’s over to school districts."

The union has previously said they haven’t ruled out going to WorkSafeBC if those steps are not taken to reduce class sizes.

“It would be really unfortunate if we were in a situation where we had to do that,” Mooring said. “We’re continuing to advocate for districts to do the right thing.”

At another news conference, earlier in the day, B.C.'s premier addressed demands from the B.C. Teachers Federation that the money be used to fund online options and hire more teachers.

The BCTF called for extra staffing as a way to reduce class sizes, making physical distancing possible at school.

Premier John Horgan said he and Fleming had discussed several options, and that he believes there's "ample time" to make necessary changes.

"I said to (BCTF president) Terri Mooring and I say to parents today that Minister Fleming and this government will be focused every day on making sure that children are safe, that families are safe and those that work inside our school system are safe," Horgan said in Vancouver Thursday morning.

"And there is no rigid plan other than the plan to get started and make sure that we have in place the physical distancing guidelines that we need, handwashing ability and the cohorts that we're developing, and that was in concert with advisory groups – from trustees, parents, teachers, administrators – all working collaboratively."

Horgan said B.C.'s school districts canvassed families, and found that on average 80 per cent of parents are ready to send their children back to school next week.