The desks have been cleared, the chalkboards erased, and the final bell rung on the most bizarre school year in B.C.’s history.
With a month of optional in-class learning during the COVID-19 pandemic now on the books, Education Minister Rob Fleming has launched a steering committee to determine what the next school year will look like come September.
The committee will consist of representatives from public health, unions, school administration, parent advisory committees, and First Nations.
“We need to be prepared for any contingency in September and it’s important we have the input of everyone who works in the school system. We have managed this by being collaborative and we want to continue that,” Fleming said.
“What determines what is possible in schools is the health and safety of staff and students.”
More than 200,000 kids, or about a third of the total B.C. student population, returned to part-time, optional in-person instruction in June as cases of COVID-19 began to dwindle.
A version of that hybrid model, of online and face-to-face instruction, is expected in the fall, but the details are up to the committee and Fleming.
“If we are in a better position in September, which is likely, school will look different. It will look more normal than it has in many, many months, but with a health and safety regime that still backs that up,” Fleming said.
“Physical contact, hand hygiene, within the schedule staggered recces, lunch breaks, controls for density in the class — we expect all of that to stay in during the pandemic.”
During the four weeks of in-class learning in June, two confirmed cases of COVID-19 were linked to B.C. schools. They were both teachers, one in a Fraser Health public school and the other in a Fraser Health independent school.
According to the BC Teachers’ Federation, one of the big issues in the fall will be that teachers, in most cases, will not have existing relationships with students.
The union is surveying its members on how things have worked in the education system this year. The analysis will be available in early July.
No COVID-19 cases linked to B.C. schools since return to classroom
The union is also working with the province on broad-based planning to alleviate the pressure on teachers doing both in-class and virtual learning.
“It was very difficult to manage,” union president Teri Mooring said. “Of course, teachers did that well, but it took many additional hours. The workload pressures are just not sustainable. Whatever blended model is established — it needs to be sustainable.”
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