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Coronavirus: B.C. parents weigh risks as classrooms reopen June 1

B.C. parents divided over return to class amid COVID-19
B.C. parents divided over return to class amid COVID-19

Thousands of B.C. students are heading to class on Monday in what will be a back-to-school unlike any the province has ever seen.

In-class instruction will resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic on June 1 on a voluntary basis, with reduced classroom capacity and a variety of physical distancing protocols.

READ MORE: School resumes in B.C. on Monday. This is what things will look like

Nicole Cook is among British Columbian parents who will be dropping her kids off Monday and said she feels safe enough to send them back.

Cook, a registered nurse, said she did her own research on the matter and involved her children in the decision.

“From what we know, children are not the super-transmitters, the carriers that we thought they were,” said Cook, whose kids attend the Surrey School District.

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“In other parts of the world where kids have gone back to school, as long as there are really strict distancing measures in place, hand washing, things like that, there haven’t been outbreaks in schools.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Premier Horgan on return of the B.C. legislature, school
Coronavirus outbreak: Premier Horgan on return of the B.C. legislature, school

Not all parents have been as keen to send their kids back to class.

B.C. mother Patricia Cullen created a petition calling for the province to hold off on in-class instruction until next September.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: B.C. parents sign petition to keep schools closed til September

In about two weeks, the petition has garnered more than 33,000 signatures.

“Some people may feel pressure from their employers now that schools are open, so they have to go back to work part-time as well,” Cullen told Global News earlier this month. “So that choice may not be entirely there.”

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“(It’s) not a choice for the teachers either, unless they have another adult who can be at home with their children, then they have to send their children back to school as well.”

B.C.’s students and teachers report on COVID-19 safety measures at schools
B.C.’s students and teachers report on COVID-19 safety measures at schools

B.C. schools could see cases, but ‘that’s OK’

On Saturday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry acknowledged it was likely a few COVID-19 cases would surface in the school system.

“It is possible and I would not be surprised if we had one or two cases arise in our schools in the coming days, but that’s OK,” said Henry.

Henry said it was most likely that those cases would turn out to be staff members, and that she believed the protocols being applied in schools will prevent widespread transmission.

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She added that the return to classes will be a “learning experience” for everyone.

Quebec, which sent kids back to school earlier this month, has already seen 41 students test positive for the virus.

READ MORE: Amid reopening, Quebec says 41 students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19

But Henry said she was confident B.C. would not see the same outcome.

“We purposely timed the reopening of schools to be sure that we had a period of time, an incubation period, to see if we were going to start seeing increased numbers of cases in our communities once we started our restart plan,” said Henry.

“If we had seen an increase, then we would have postponed or delayed the start of schools.”

Coronavirus: Vernon, B.C. parents divided on sending kids back to class
Coronavirus: Vernon, B.C. parents divided on sending kids back to class

Asked if she was concerned about her children — given the situation in Quebec — Cook said British Columbia has been much more effective in handling the pandemic.

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“If B.C. was Quebec right now, in terms of case numbers, I would not be comfortable sending the kids back to school,” she said.

“But our case numbers, we’re basically in the single-digits now. Quebec, they’ve had more deaths than we’ve had cases.”

New protocols

Alan Millar, principal at Edith McDermott Elementary in Pitt Meadows, said when children show up on Monday, things will look very different.

“What children are going to be able to expect is a significant reduction of the number of students in their classes, and differences in our pickup and drop-off experiences,” he said.

“We’re going to emphasize and promote physical and social distancing as much as possible, recognizing that these are children.”

Millar and other administrators at the school produced a series of YouTube videos to walk parents — and teachers — through those new protocols, in the hopes of making everyone more comfortable.

WorkSafeBC has provided a list of guidelines for schools to follow.

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Other big changes will include staggered start times, lunch times and recesses, frequent hand washing, and restrictions on how many people can use the washroom at once.

If children are wearing masks, teachers will also be able to wear them to make the students more comfortable.

Millar said classes of kids will also be kept together as “pods” to encourage them to limit interactions with other students outside their group.

Physical distancing markers have also been applied to the floors.

Millar said of the 350 students enrolled in his school, about 80 have signed up to come back so far.

Parents are free to withdraw their kids at any time, while parents that wish to send their kids to school in the future will need to let the school know by the Friday prior to the week they want to come back.