British Columbia

Quebec has plans to reopen schools. Why not B.C.?

Quebec announced it will gradually start bringing students back into classrooms starting May 11, but B.C.'s education minister says setting a date "is a little bit backwards."

Quebec will start bringing students back into classrooms starting May 11, but B.C. says that's too soon

Some students in Quebec are being allowed to return to classrooms starting May 11. (Kevin Mulcahy/Shutterstock )

Should B.C. follow Quebec's lead in moving ahead with plans to gradually reopen schools by welcoming the youngest students back first?

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming says no, emphasizing that COVID-19 health and safety concerns still trump the social and economic arguments for bringing children and teachers back into classrooms.

"There are a lot of places that are focused on the 'when,' but in British Columbia and other provinces, setting a date as opposed to putting the bulk of the effort into a plan is a little bit backwards," said Fleming on CBC's The Early Edition on Wednesday.  

But McGill University epidemiology professor Jay Kaufmann sees it differently. 

"When we weigh the possibility of some health risks against the very real consequences of keeping children at home we have to strike a balance," said Kaufmann, also speaking on The Early Edition.

Kaufmann's argument is partially based on early and limited evidence that very young children don't seem to be vectors in COVID-19 spread. 

"The fear people have that their children might become infected and bring that back to the household ... the evidence to date seems to indicates that's not the biggest concern," he said. 

"What we know so far is that children can be infected and get the disease, but they have a very mild course of disease with very little risk to their own health. And what increasingly seems clear also is that they don't transmit very much to other people."

LISTEN | Jay Kaufmann speaks to The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn

Quebec reopening plans

The plan to reopen schools in Quebec is not a simple one and officials expect to announce more health and safety restrictions as the date draws closer.

Some of the measures already announced:

  • Daycares and elementary schools will reopen May 11, a week later in the Greater Montreal area.
  • Classes are limited to 15 students maximum, with two-metre distancing a goal. 
  • No students or staff with pre-existing conditions are allowed back.
  • No students or staff who live with someone with a pre-existing condition, over 60, or who is pregnant are allowed back.
  • Return to class is not obligatory — parents can keep their children home if they choose.
  • Buses are limited to one child per seat.

WATCH | Quebec moves to reopen schools:

Kids in daycare and elementary schools will be heading back to class as of May 11. What's that going to look like? 2:37

Kaufmann believes the most vulnerable children will benefit the most with a return to class. 

But Fleming points out that in B.C., there has been a strong focus on maintaining supports for vulnerable students, even with in-class learning shutdown.

He also says the teaching and learning methods introduced early in the pandemic are starting to be more effective as time passes.

"As of last week we had onboarded 20,000 teachers on the safe Zoom enterprise platform," he said. "We have hundreds of thousands of kids on video conference screens learning in a virtual classroom." 

"It was difficult to get up and running in the middle of the pandemic, but the information coming back from districts is that it's getting better and better. "

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from The Early Edition

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