Schools reopen in B.C. as some students head back to class part time
VANCOUVER -- Monday marks a pivotal day in B.C.'s pandemic response, with schools across the province reopening for those who wish to attend.
The voluntary return was announced mid-May and work has been underway for weeks to get schools and classrooms ready for the limited return.
At Edith McDermott Elementary School in Pitt Meadows, Principal Alan Millar and several teachers have been making YouTube videos in at attempt to prepare young students for their return to class, as it will look much different than it dead before they were last in school before March break.
Families will notice changes almost right away. Parents are asked to drop kids off near the sidewalk and not come on to school property or into the school. Students will line up six feet apart before being allowed in one by one. Once inside, they will sanitize their hands before heading to class.
There are now markers in many hallways making them one direction, and classrooms have just a handful of desks to allow for physical distancing inside.
The number of students returning this week across the province isn't yet known and will vary by district.
In North Vancouver, the school board says about half of families with kids between kindergarten and Grade 5 that were recently surveyed indicated they planned their send their kids back to class.
That has allowed the district to plan for about half the students to attend on Mondays and Tuesdays, with the other half attending on Thursdays and Fridays.
Class sizes will be greatly reduced in all districts to allow for physical distancing in classrooms, and most students will only be in class a couple days a week.
For each family, the return to school may look different. CTV News spoke with one parent whose elementary aged child in Vancouver is one of eight kids returning to his classroom. He will be attending school twice a week with three other students.
"We are ready for this and we are reopening schools because we believe it is safe to do so," provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a briefing on Saturday. "We have confidence that the approach that we’ve put in place in schools across this province are the appropriate ones and the ones that will keep us all safe."
Personal protective equipment is not a mandatory part of the return, but school districts are acknowledging that some staff and students may decide to use some forms of PPE, like masks.
"It is important that people who decide to wear masks are treated with respect," reads a Vancouver School Board memo to parents. "Parents and staff can teach and reinforce these practices amongst students."
Not all teachers will be back in the classroom this week.
The B.C. Teachers Federation says about one in 10 are requesting to keep working from home because they have a higher vulnerability to the virus.
A common model is for teachers to work four days a week in the classroom, and then the fifth remotely.
While Henry believes the 3.5 week return to school will be safe, she cannot rule out the possibility of more COVID-19 cases.
"It is possible and I would not be surprised I would not be surprised if we did have one or two cases perhaps arise in our schools in the coming weeks," Henry said.
"But it is a cautious approach that we're taking, and this cautious approach will help us learn and help us understand and have the tools that we need for a broader reopening come September."
With files from The Canadian Press