The new school year starting in September is likely to be a hybrid model combining classroom and online learning, says Education Minister Rob Fleming.
That would make it much like what students will be experiencing this month as they return to classes after an approximately six-week layoff. In-person classes were called off March 17 as a measure to control the spread of COVID-19.
Fleming said at a Tuesday news conference that the hybrid model would be in place until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available and “the pandemic is officially over in this part of the world and around the globe.”
“We’ll make an official call as to how strong the restart of school is going to look like, come Labour Day, for the next school year.”
He said B.C. has to be ready for a “second wave” of COVID-19 later this year.
“We have to prepare to move forward as we have done this Monday, and move backward when we get into the fall and winter.”
The June session for schools is seen as a way to gauge what will be needed in September, Fleming said.
“We hope that the June restart is part of something that will help us have even a stronger start to school in September,” Fleming said. “We know that a lot of students have struggled at home solely based on remote online learning.
“I know teachers have done incredibly innovative things to make learning fun and engaging, but a lot of kids have missed in-class instruction.”
Fleming said there is “no substitute” for a classroom setting.
The return to school is for one month only, with students in school on a part-time basis.
“It’s an option for parents,” Fleming said. “We respect whatever choice they make, whether it’s to return their kids to school at this time or not.
“Teachers are supporting the other kids who don’t return through the continuation of remote, online learning.”
Parents who change their minds about their children staying home and now want to send them back can still contact their schools, he said.
The first day of classes Monday saw 60,000 students in B.C.’s 60 school districts attend, while similar numbers were expected Tuesday.
That amounts to about one-third of the overall total, Fleming said.
About 90 per cent of teachers returned, he said, and they will continue to have online classes as well as in-school classes.
The highest number of returnees Monday was Grade 6 students at 48.3 per cent. Grade 12s were the lowest at 14.5 per cent.
Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Winona Waldron said she didn’t hear about any major concerns during the return to school Monday.
“I think it went well — otherwise my inbox would be full of emails,” she said.
But Waldron said there are some ongoing issues with the district in meeting the needs of teachers who are not returning due to health issues or lack of childcare.
In some cases, they have been told to take leave instead of being accommodated with the option of working from home, she said.