Dr. Bonnie Henry has promised to parents that physical distancing is a priority as kids return to the classroom in September, and that she is confident in B.C.’s school restart plan.
Following last week’s announced plan to have students of all ages returning back to school on Sept. 8, following the Labour Day long weekend, both teachers and some parents have voiced concern.
An online petition started by parents, which had garnered nearly 21,000 signatures as of noon on Wednesday (Aug. 5), has called for the B.C. government to allow the plan to be voluntary for students.
“The government is pressuring our kids to go back to school even though it is still unsafe as COVID-19 cases are increasing consistently on a daily basis, and yet they just keep repeating that ‘this is a robust plan’, in hope for our buy-in,” the petition reads.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Teachers Federation was quick to call for a delay to the start of classes citing a need for more time so teachers can plan, as well as transmission risks.
On Tuesday, during a news conference, Henry reiterated that the plan for students is breaking new ground amid an unprecedented pandemic but that the framework is backed by collaboration with school officials and parent groups with safety top of mind.
“I think this speaks to people’s anxieties – and we all have anxieties,” the provincial health officer said.
“We are learning as we go with this virus, but we also know that there are important things children can only get from being in classroom settings.”
Part of the plan includes that students will be organized into “learning groups,” made up of a consistent group of staff and students in order to reduce the risk of transmission. The groups will be up to 60 students within younger grades and 120 for high school. Some middle and high school students will see some changes to their daily schedules.
Staff and students will also be required to assess themselves daily for symptoms of the novel coronavirus. If any student or staff member has even mild symptoms, they will be told to stay home.
Henry told reporters that students will be prevented from “mixing and mingling” and desks will be organized to maintain physical distancing.
Earlier this week, Alberta and Ontario officials announced masks will be mandatory in schools – a decision Henry said she has no intention of making in this province.
Amid the uncertainty, Henry reiterated that students being able to socialize safely with friends and experience some normalcy in the fall is integral for their mental well-being and education.
“We need to be able to give children the instructions, the class, the type of teaching that they need in those settings, as well,” she said.
“It is finding that balance of making sure we’re doing everything we can to reduce that risk – knowing that this virus is going to be with us and we need to find a way to live with it – and still have those absolutely critical learning opportunities for children.”
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