The B.C. government has announced kindergarten to Grade 12 classes in the province are suspended indefinitely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Premier John Horgan says a potential return date will be discussed down the road.
Education Minister Rob Fleming says the decision was made with advice from health officials.
“As the global pandemic is evolving quickly and is having as a growing impact we need to take action to keep those students, teachers, and staff safe,” Fleming said.
“We are directing all schools to immediately stop all in-class instructions.”
BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring called the move “a responsible decision,” but said there were many unanswered questions.
“There won’t be in-classroom learning. We just don’t have the details and what that will look like. Teachers will be providing learning opportunities for students,” she said.
“There are lots of different families that don’t have access to internet. We just need to be careful of guaranteeing what learning will look like.”
Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry originally expressed concerns over closing schools due to the impact it would have on essential service workers with children.
Fleming acknowledged that a “small but essential” portion of B.C.’s 550,000 students whose parents are health-care staff or other essential workers, and that the province is working on a childcare plan so they can continue to go to work.
He said the government is still in talks with education stakeholders about how to move forward with teaching, whether it be electronic classroom-based instruction or online courses.
Alberta has cancelled all K-12 classes until further notice and closed licensed child care facilities.
Washington state Governor Jay Inslee announced last Friday all schools there would be closed from March 17 until at least April 24.
Economic help coming
Horgan and Finance Minister Carole James said the province would unveil its pandemic economic plan once the federal government reveals details of its own stimulus package on Wednesday. B.C. would then look to fill any gaps or supplement where needed.
Horgan said B.C. was also pressing Ottawa to expand EI coverage to include people who are normally be excluded, including part-time and contract workers, as well as to increase EI payouts.
“They need to be closer to full wages rather than half wages or three-quarter wages, depending on what the circumstances are,” he said.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce has asked both Ottawa and the B.C. government to not charge late-filing penalties or installment interest on balances owing on taxes until COVID-19 is under control.
Horgan said they’re also ready to look at cutting red tape or introduce tax relief to especially help keep small businesses open.
The province is also reconvening its Renters’ Task Force to consider housing measures such as rent banks and eviction freezes, he said.
James said the government had broken its economic response into three “streams”: Supports for health and safety, working with Ottawa for immediate financial relief, and planning for economic recovery.
“It is likely that we will have a deficit. I think there’s no question about that,” she said. “But the specifics and the numbers, it’s just too early.”
A revised economic outlook will come in the next few weeks.
The Retail Council of Canada has also assured her there is no shortage in the supply chain, James added.
“There’s enough in stock for everyone. There isn’t any need to overstock your supplies. Doing so will put at risk seniors, single parents and others who need those essentials.”
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