British Columbia

B.C. students will be back in class by Sept. 10

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming has announced a gradual restart of classes in September, with students expected back in the classroom by Sept. 10.

Education Minister Rob Fleming announces gradual restart to school year

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming announced plans for a Sept. 10 return to school on July 29. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming has announced a gradual restart of classes in September, with students expected back in the classroom by Sept. 10.

Beginning on Sept. 8, school staff will meet with their schools' joint health and safety committees to get instructions on plans to prevent transmission of COVID-19. They'll also have time to adjust to the new routine and make sure lesson plans work in the "new normal," according to a government press release.

"Schools are going to look different in September," Fleming said in a news release.

"Staff, students and parents need time to get familiar with all the new health and safety procedures that are designed to keep them safe and confident in their school settings."

Children will return to school for orientation by Sept. 10, when they'll learn their class assignments and find out who is in their "learning group" — a cluster of 60-120 students that is meant to allow for social interaction, while limiting the potential for widespread transmission.

Students were originally expected to return to class along with their teachers on Sept. 8.

Fleming said outdoor education will play a large role in the first two months of classes and emphasized the importance of students returning to schools to continue their education.

"We can't sacrifice 18 months of education, we have to learn how to do things safely during this pandemic. That's why we've developed and evolved the guidelines to maximize the return to in-class instruction,'' Fleming said.

Details of the phased plan come after concerns were raised by the B.C. Teachers' Federation and the B.C. Principals' and Vice-Principals' Association, as well as two days of criticism from Opposition members during question period in the legislature.

Simeen and Asif Bhanji, parents to five-year-old Zenaya and seven-year-old Auraya, say they are not comfortable with sending their kids back to school.

"We were really disappointed with how this had proceeded so quickly without any information or details," said Simeen Bhanji, saying she hasn't been sleeping properly due to stress about her kids going back to school.

Asif Bhanji says while he agrees that schools need to resume, there should be more options to accommodate parents who are worried about risks to their families, immunocompromised elders and themselves.

Premier John Horgan said he understands parents and families are concerned about the circumstances, but added that schools are fundamental in a return to normalcy.

"We're working everyday, diligently, to try and ease those concerns to make it as safe as we possibly can,'' Horgan said. "I think parents understand that, educators understand that, and the kids, of course, they just want to get back to school.''

Fleming has said that face masks will be supplied to all students and staff, and will be used in most transportation settings and possibly common areas where physical distancing isn't possible.

A government steering committee, established to help schools plan their restart, will issue operational guidelines next week on issues ranging from health and safety protocols to supporting the mental health of students.

With files from The Canadian Press, Zahra Premji