VICTORIA — Back-to-school plans have been posted online for all 60 districts in British Columbia with an aim to offer all instruction in classrooms, but the teachers union says federal cash promised for provinces should be used to reduce class sizes.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said Wednesday that in-class learning is the best option for students who have been out of school for extended periods of time and face learning and emotional consequences.
"School is where kids learn with their peers, with teachers and teaching assistants. It's where they grow," he said. "And for some children, school is a safe haven they have in their lives."
However, Fleming said full-time in-class learning won't be possible for districts such as Surrey, home to B.C.'s largest student population, so a hybrid model that includes online learning will be offered.
Some districts will stagger pickup and drop-off times as well as break and lunch times to minimize contact during the pandemic, he said.
Teri Mooring, president of the BC Teachers' Federation, said the province's $242-million portion of the $2 billion to address pandemic-related measures in schools announced Wednesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be used to hire more teachers and create adequate physical distancing in smaller classes.
"In B.C., we're going to have thousands of classrooms with 30 students, and with 30 students, physical distancing is not possible," she said.
"We see an opportunity with those federal dollars that there can be an investment in hiring additional teachers in making that option viable."
In keeping with federal guidelines that recommend children age 10 and up wear masks at school, Mooring challenged the province's requirement for students to wear masks only in hallways or outside of their so-called learning groups of up to 60 students in elementary and middle schools and 120 students in high schools.
Deputy education minister Scott MacDonald said some students may be at school for about 65 per cent of the time to minimize contact with others during the pandemic.
MacDonald encouraged parents to get informed by viewing their school district's plans online. Independent schools are expected to post their plans on Monday.
In Surrey, for example, students in grades 8 and 9 will attend full-time classes at school while senior students will do their work through a hybrid model of in-class and remote learning.
Fleming said most secondary students who typically take eight courses a day will now be studying two subjects at a time over 10 weeks and that will be the case in about 70 per cent of school districts.
"In communities like Chilliwack, Nelson, Sooke, Prince Rupert and Campbell River, secondary schools will offer one course at a time for five weeks so everyone can stay in the classroom with the same teacher for most of the day."
Teachers will return to classrooms on Sept. 8 for a two-day health and safety orientation before students have their own orientation that week, including on how to stay within their learning groups.
Playgrounds in some elementary schools will be divided into zones to minimize interaction among students.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement that parents in particular are facing the added challenge during the pandemic of navigating additional health protocols and precautions when it comes to in-class learning.
"With COVID-19 in our communities for many months to come, new routines will be needed that can sustain families for the entire school year," they said.
— By Camille Bains in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2020.
The Canadian Press