British Columbia

Education minister says B.C. students could be back in classrooms before end of school year

Dr. Bonnie Henry said it will be at least a few weeks before a date is set to reopen schools for thousands of B.C. children and youth.

Provincial health officer says it will be at least a few weeks before date is set

Education Minister Rob Fleming says he is not ruling out the possibility of reopening B.C. schools before June if provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says it is absolutely safe to do so. (Brenna Owen/CBC)

Students in British Columbia could see the inside of a classroom before summer.

The provincial government is not ruling out the idea of reopening school facilities and getting students back into physical classrooms before the end of June. 

Education Minister Rob Fleming said not only is it possible schools could reopen, it is also likely that students who were on track to graduate and head to college before the COVID-19 pandemic will still be able to do just that.

Fleming said British Columbians are making good strides stopping the spread of the virus and, while he does not want to jeopardize anything by opening schools prematurely, he did say "it is a possibility for sure" those facilities could open again this school year.

"The high level defeat of the coronavirus in B.C. is what we need to see," said Fleming, adding that will be when there are no new cases and the risk of another outbreak is almost zero.

Ultimately, the decision to reopen will be made by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who said Saturday it will be at least a few weeks before a date is set.

"It really depends on how things manage over the next two weeks. We are talking about planning for reopening and what that might look like," she said, adding, one of the things being discussed in the coming weeks will be how to maintain physical distancing and handwashing measures in schools.

B.C. schools were ordered closed March 17 to help stop the spread of COVID-19. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Getting back to class could be a welcome relief for students in Grade 12, some of whom are left wondering if they are moving on to college in the fall, or will be able to graduate on stage or attend a prom.

"We are all of one mind that the class of 2020 should not face hardship ... because this happened to the world," said Fleming Tuesday on The Early Edition.

He said the Ministry of Education is in close contact with post-secondary institutions to make sure there are no interruptions for Grade 12 students who already received preliminary letters of acceptance from institutions.

Fleming also said school staff are 'looking at creative ideas about how they can provide something meaningful' for graduates if they are unable to have traditional ceremonies on a traditional timeline.

Online learning subpar in B.C., says opposition

But until Henry gives a green light, nearly 600,000 B.C. kids will have to continue to learn at home and online, something provincial Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson says is not working well for everyone.

Wilkinson said all school districts had their classrooms up and running online in Ontario and Alberta by the end of March and B.C. still lags behind.

According to Wilkinson, this is because the province let school districts determine how to proceed in their region rather than giving them clear orders.

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson says the NDP government should not have left organizing online learning to individual school districts because it has created a patchwork system across the province. (Juliya Shangarey/Shutterstock)

"Find that backbone to say to the districts this resource is available to you. You can use it in the following fashion," said Wilkinson Tuesday on On The Island.

He said there is currently a huge range between districts in what is being offered, saying there is "next to nothing going on in some to more or less full tilt school programming in others."

Premier John Horgan said school districts have the best handle on what resources are available in the region and are best suited to determine how to serve their students.

"Smithers is not Saanich. Valemount is not Vancouver. So, to have local districts developing those plans in concert with teachers and the families that will access them is appropriate," said Horgan Tuesday on On The Island.

The premier added that not all families have the same technology at home and this must be considered.

According to Fleming, more than 25,000 students who needed them have received iPads or laptops to be able to work remotely at home. He said tens of thousands of students are also still receiving meals they depend on from school food programs.

With files from The Early Edition, On The Island

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