B.C. planning for controlled return to in-class K-12 instruction

No date has been confirmed for when students may head back to school

The province is exploring what a phased return to in-class education looks like for students in kindergarten to Grade 12.

"We will continue taking direction from the provincial health officer, from the premier and cabinet," B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said Tuesday. He added that the province will return to regular school life down the road, but has not shared when that might be.

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The ministry has not ruled out a return to in-class instruction before the end of the regular school year.

Instead, Fleming said the province is planning for a number of scenarios, which includes planning for some level of class instruction. He noted that B.C. is closely watching how other jurisdictions choose to send students back to school.

"We are monitoring and learning from places like [New Zealand] and other jurisdictions," he said. “Perhaps we have an advantage of being able to look at other jurisdictions that for their own reasons have announced dates for returns to school."

Fleming said the province will not "flip a switch" and restart B.C.'s 60-school-district system. Instead, the provincial government will be looking to dial up primary, middle and secondary in-class instruction at some point.

The minister emphasized repeatedly that the ministry is focused on planning: planning for a number of scenarios, and planning health and safety protocols around a broader re-opening of schools.

"It's the right thing to do. It's prudent. We know full well we might not be able to implement those plans this side of summer break," Fleming said.

School districts' focus over the next few weeks will continue to emphasize support for vulnerable students and students of frontline and essential workers. Some in-class instruction has remained available to both groups.

"It's really about contemplating what the next steps may be," Fleming said, noting that it makes sense to get better at pandemic planning and building out health protocols in case classes do resume as normal, and B.C. experiences a second wave of COVID-19.

According to the province, more than 20,000 teachers are now instructing more than 275,000 B.C. students via an enterprise version of Zoom video conferencing software. More than 23,000 computers and devices have been loaned from schools to families to support remote learning. 

The province is also working with Internet service providers to enable free Wi-Fi for families and First Nations in need of support, and has redeployed school district technology professionals to assist households with technology needs.

hwoodin@biv.com

@hayleywoodin

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