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Children won’t be put at COVID risk in B.C. schools: Horgan

The provincial government is watching how COVID-19 evolves and could change course on the back to school plan if needed
B.C.'s current back to school plan has some teachers and parents concerned that the provincial government is forcing children into a risky situation. Photo: Getty Images

Children will return to school in September but the provincial government is watching how COVID-19 evolves and could change course if needed, Premier John Horgan said Aug. 6.

“I want parents to know we would not be putting their children at risk if there was an overwhelming risk,” Horgan said.

Minister of Education Rob Fleming said July 29 that efforts to get kindergarten to Grade 12 students back into classrooms are being spurred by the need for young people to interact with their peers.

“We know schools can safely reopen if community transmission is low,” B.C. Provincial Health Office Bonnie Henry said, explaining students would be divided into cohorts or “learning groups” of students and staff that primarily only interact with each other throughout the school year.

For elementary students, those groups will be made up of about 60 people, although Henry emphasized they will not all be in the same classroom. Secondary schools will see learning groups of up to 120 people.

However, as infection numbers begin to rise once more, the situation has led to concern among parents, teachers and other school employees that not enough is being done to protect those in schools.

But, Horgan said, he’s confident principals, school districts, teachers and staff are working to get the situation right for schools to accept students in September.

But then, the premier seemed to leave the door open to a possible delay.

“If it takes a few more days, so be it,” Horgan said.

Minister of Health Adrian Dix said any decisions around school operations in the pandemic will be made based on science.

Victoria is earmarking $45.6 million in funding to enhance cleaning regimes and hire more cleaning staff.

Fleming said masks won’t be mandatory but some of the funding will go towards providing reusable masks for instances in which physical distancing is not possible.

“We’re certainly providing [personal protective equipment] for those in schools,” Horgan said.

He said the return is going to require all involved to be flexible. That includes working with a hybrid of learning techniques including online, he said. Further, Horgan said, work continues to ensure greater connectivity in rural B.C. to allow greater online instruction outside urban areas.

“We’re putting in place a plan to connect all British Columbians as fast as we can,” he said.