British Columbia

Most B.C. parents in favour of face masks in class, but divided on back-to-school plans, poll finds

A new poll by Insights West released Wednesday suggests the majority of parents in B.C. are in favour of sending students back to class with a face mask to wear, although there is no consensus on the provincial government's plan to reopen schools.

Results of an online poll suggest most parents feel they are left in the dark

A new poll by Insights West released Wednesday suggests parents in B.C. don't agree about the provincial government's plan to reopen schools. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Most parents in B.C. are in favour of sending their children to class with a face mask to wear, but are split on what should happen after school bells ring in September, a new poll suggests.

About half (49 per cent) of British Columbians surveyed by Insight West were in favour of the provincial government's plan to reopen schools, while 42 per cent oppose it.

The poll confirms what Premier John Horgan already suspected — not everyone is pleased with the back-to-school plans, the market research firm's president Steve Mossop said in a news release.

"Our latest poll on the state of readiness of parents and the general public to go back to school shows a significant level of fear and uncertainty," reads his statement.

The poll suggests parents appear to be divided on three key facets: their comfort level with sending their kids back to class, their take on the idea of possibly wearing masks and their preferences between online and in-person learning.

If given a choice, four out of ten parents (41 per cent) prefer a mix of online and in-person classes, just over a quarter (27 per cent) would put their kids back in a full-time classroom setting and 27 per cent prefer all learning takes place online, according to the poll.

The poll suggests about half of parents feel very comfortable (16 per cent) or somewhat comfortable (35 per cent) sending their kids back to the classroom, while the other half are not very comfortable (30 per cent) or not comfortable at all (19).

Parents also expressed concerns about isolating their children without any in-class learning and shortcomings in the quality of online learning.

Seventy-one per cent of respondents agree with the statement "if there is not in-class learning, I worry about my child(ren)'s socialization" and about two-thirds (63 per cent) concur that in-class learning is necessary because online instruction provides a "poor quality" of education.

Parents expressed concern

About half of parents (49 per cent) say they do not know how they will manage remote learning and a similar proportion (46 per cent) do not have child care in place if their kids stay home, the poll suggests.

Parents were also split on whether their children would be safe from exposure to COVID-19 if they return to classrooms full time.

Four out of five of parents (80 per cent) agree they need more information about how the plan will work, and seven out of every ten (70 per cent) say the provincial government is not being strict enough with the rules around reopening schools.

Meanwhile, the majority of respondents (85 per cent) praise the government's overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Masks in schools

In an interview on Wednesday, Mossop said he was most surprised about the overwhelming support for masks in schools, which presents a stark contrast to what he has observed anecdotally while visiting malls and in transit.

"[It's] what people do versus what they say," he said, adding there was less controversy in the responses this time around compared to another poll from about a month and a half ago.

The latest online study sampled 825 B.C. residents from Aug. 5 to Aug. 9, according to the release. A comparable margin of error for a study this size would be +/- 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

According to the B.C. government's website, schools will be reopening with in-class instruction within learning groups, capped at 60 students for elementary and middle schools, and 120 for high schools.

The website states students and staff will not be required to wear face masks while at school.

It advises young children should not use masks and recommends staff and older students wear non-medical masks in situations outside their learning group and where physical distancing is not possible for an extended period of time. 

"Wearing a mask is a personal choice that will always be respected," reads the website.

Non-medical masks will be provided upon request.

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