British Columbia

B.C. shifting to phased-in school restart with teachers returning to class before students

Education Minister Rob Fleming indicates only staff will be back initially to co-ordinate COVID logistics, but it remains unclear when exactly students will return to the classroom.

Education minister suggests only staff will be back initially to co-ordinate logistics

The B.C. government says staff will return to school ahead of students. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The provincial government is indicating the initial return to school this fall will only see staff in the classroom, so teachers can sort out logistics before students return.

It follows two straight days of mounting criticism during question period in the legislature, with both the B.C. Green Party and B.C. Liberals demanding more certainty on the school restart plan.

On Tuesday, when the official Opposition pressed for more clarity around the specific date kids will be back in the classroom, the education minister suggested a phased-in return for students.

"If we have to use that first week of school to get it right, and districts are saying, 'look, we need some time with our local administrative teams on the ground,' that's a conversation that's happening at the steering committee," responded Education Minister Rob Fleming. 

He added there will be an announcement in the coming days about what exactly the first day back, Sept. 8, will look like for staff teams as the return date for students is delayed.

"If it takes some extra time and builds additional confidence and fulfils the guidelines that have been developed by Dr. Bonnie Henry and her team, that's what we're going to do," Fleming added.

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming addresses the media during a virtual scrum at the legislature, confirming staff will return to school ahead of students come Sept. 8. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

When speaking to reporters later, he said his ministry wants to give school staff the flexibility to figure out logistical considerations around scheduling before students are actually onsite. 

"The idea is to get staff back together — whether it's support staff, teachers, administrators — to finalize how the school operations are going to work," said Fleming. "[It'll also involve] a thorough review of the safety guidelines and then to accept students back later in the first week of school."

When asked to clarify when exactly students would be back in the classroom, he would only say there are ongoing discussions with the steering committee tasked with forming the relaunch plan.

"We see an advantage to having staff have a couple of days just in their learning teams, just in their school setting, before we welcome back kids in the first week on a phased re-entry," Fleming said.

He added his team fully anticipated some shifts in planning all along as it listens to continual feedback and advice from all stakeholders involved.

Fleming reiterated face masks would be supplied to all students and staff, and would be required in transportation settings and possibly common areas where physical distancing isn't possible.

BCTF welcomes staggered approach

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring said teachers welcomed the move, and had been lobbying for more time to prepare for an eventual return to in-class instruction.

Mooring said teachers need time in September to be trained on new health and safety protocols, especially because it will be teachers educating students about the new rules.

"Every year students enter school and they have to learn new routines and that sort of thing. This is going to be on a whole different level because there's so much more that students are going to have to be aware of," she said.

Mooring said that in many cases, students will need learn entirely new protocols around the most basic of school routines, including using the washroom, manoeuvring hallways and sharing class supplies.

"I think what teachers really need and want is some really high-quality health and safety orientation training," she said.

"Everyone wants to normalize our lives as much as we can, but we also have to make sure that the health and safety measures are in place, that teachers are trained, support staff are trained and that they're feeling comfortable training students as well."

About the Author

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

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