The clock is ticking on students’ return to class in British Columbia. But instead of stocking up on notebooks and other supplies and making plans for school lunches, children and their parents are making preparations on how to best deal with the risks associated with COVID-19.
The province has delayed the return to public school classroom until Sept. 10 in order to give teachers more time to prepare for the “new normal” of schooling due to the ongoing pandemic.
In recent weeks, the BC Teachers’ Federation and vocal parents groups have called for the province to hit the brakes on returning to school, citing concerns on how physical distancing and other safety precautions will work. Greater Victoria teachers and other unions are calling for an expanded mandate for masks.
And when the first bell rings to usher in a new school year, the classrooms awaiting students could look much different.
Students will be sorted into learning groups to reduce the number of people they come in contact with. For elementary and middle school students, groups will be no larger than 60 people. Secondary school groups will be capped at 120. Students and staff don’t need to maintain physical distancing within their learning group, but contact should be minimized. Outside the group, physical distancing is required. Students should be more spaced out in classrooms. The province is urging schools to stagger recess, lunch and class transition times and take students outside whenever possible.
Students and staff will not be required to wear masks in schools, but the province says it’s a “personal choice that will always be respected.” It says provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recommends non-medical masks be worn by adults and older students when they are unable to physically distance like in hallways and on buses. Middle and high school students are asked to wear masks on buses. Students should be assigned seats, and a transparent barrier may be used to separate the driver.
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