Start of B.C. school year being pushed back, minister says
VANCOUVER -- The start of B.C.'s upcoming school year is being pushed back to a yet-undecided date, Education Minister Rob Fleming revealed Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters from the provincial legislature, Fleming said teachers and staff will need some time on school grounds without students present to ensure they're properly implementing the pandemic guidelines put out by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
That means pushing back the previously announced start date of Sept. 8, though it's unclear exactly when classes will begin. Fleming said the details are still being worked out, but that he expects a gradual start to the school year.
"Having the restart week staged in some kind of manner that would have staff teams together for a couple days before we gradually welcome kids back to make sure that every school – all 1,500 of them in the province – are truly ready to welcome students is a good idea, and that's the approach that we'll be taking," Fleming said.
The province previously said most students across B.C. from kindergarten through Grade 12 would be able to resume classes after the Labour Day weekend, as they would any other year.
But there was swift pushback, including from the B.C. Teachers' Federation, which argued more time was needed to address concerns around returning to work in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fleming noted that B.C.'s back-to-school plan was never finalized, and that changes were to be expected as the stakeholders in its steering committee continued ironing out the details.
The province has promised to share final details by Aug. 26.
There will be many changes this year, both big and small, with students and teachers being separated into cohorts, or "learning groups," in order to limit the number of people they come into contact with on the grounds.
For earlier grades, cohorts will be a maximum of 60 people, while students in later grades can have up to 120 in their group.
When students do finally return, Fleming said they can expect their first days back to look considerably different than usual as well.
"Typically what happens is that kids return for the first couple of days to their previous classroom configuration and then they would be assigned to a new classroom," he said. "That obviously can't happen under these pandemic conditions, that would not be a safe practice."
The B.C. Teachers' Federation said members are still waiting for more details about the delayed start to the school year, but that they're pleased they aren't being rushed into the fall semester.
Union president Teri Mooring said it's important that teachers receive proper training on the new health and safety protocols, as they will likely be the ones passing those on to children.
"How they enter the building, how they exit the building, the process for going to the washroom, classroom things like the physical distancing measures, not sharing supplies – there's a lot for students to grapple with here and so that whole process needs to be really carefully done," she said.
Fleming also said there is an "active, ongoing discussion" about the mask policy that will be implemented in schools.