B.C.’s top doctor says she expects some kids will start returning to school before the end of the school year, during her daily update on the province’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday the province is preparing for a gradual return, with the priority being children whose people are heading back to work once restrictions start to ease.
“I expect there will be some children coming back to school before the end of this session, but what that looks like is still being worked out,” she told reporters.
The earliest the province has said it would consider to ease overall restrictions is mid-May.
Schools are currently open for children of essential workers, but there is no in-classroom teaching. Many parents have had to turn to home-schooling with mixed results.
“It’s interdependent on when we are able to ramp up our health-care system again,” Henry said.
“The decision has not yet been made about how much and what will happen in the near term. I think it’s safe to say we’re not thinking about school over the summer, but we want to make sure that we have plans that address all of our issues for the fall.”
Conversations are underway about whether teachers and support staff will wear masks or other personal protective equipment while in the classroom when children and teens are back at their desks.
An internal document prepared by the Vancouver School Board, using the guidance of health officials, says that those staff in schools will not be required to wear such gear.
Warren Williams, the president of CUPE 15 which represents school support workers, said members would like to wear masks, but understand there is a shortage of equipment.
“That would be our preference but the government is telling us it’s not necessary,” Williams said. “The Vancouver School Board is providing gloves, sanitizer and cleaning products.”
The province is considering different options to safely reopen schools, such as having children attend on alternating days to allow for smaller classes so students can spread out.
Another option, to help younger students practice physical-distancing, is to encourage more individual play and spreading out enough toys for all kids to have something to play with.
BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said it’s natural for teachers to be nervous about uncertainty in the school system and is confident in the plan being worked out.
“Once we get some plans in place and people know what the plans are and they can be assured that health and safety precautions are being followed, they will feel much better about it,” Mooring said.