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Coronavirus: Back-to-school plans for all B.C. school districts now posted online

Click to play video 'B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming outlines the province’s coronavirus back-to-school plan' B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming outlines the province’s coronavirus back-to-school plan
B.C.'s education minister provided new details on the province's plans for a return to the classroom. All 60 of the province's school districts have now been given a green light on their safety plans – Aug 26, 2020

British Columbia has approved coronavirus back-to-school plans for all of the province’s 60 school districts, Education Minister Rob Fleming said Wednesday.

Individual plans can be viewed on districts’ websites.

Click to play video 'Government places emphasis on in-class learning in new back to school plans' Government places emphasis on in-class learning in new back to school plans
Government places emphasis on in-class learning in new back to school plans – Aug 26, 2020

Details of each plan vary by district, due to differences in school space, scheduling issues, public feedback and staff collective agreements, according to the ministry.

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READ MORE: Vancouver high schools to use hybrid model under coronavirus plan

“We’ve had a chance to review each of these plans, and I’m impressed by the thoughtful, considerate and innovative local solutions that we see within those plans,”

“There’s no question that schools are going to look very different than they did before the pandemic or even in June,” said Fleming.

Classes will begin next month under Phase 2 of the province’s Education Restart Plan, which provides for mostly in-person learning.

Click to play video 'B.C. teachers call for changes to back-to-school rules' B.C. teachers call for changes to back-to-school rules
B.C. teachers call for changes to back-to-school rules – Aug 19, 2020

Phase 1 provides for a return to normal school operations, while phases 3 through 5 plan for smaller learning groups and varying degrees of online learning should the pandemic worsen.

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All school boards will have the authority to offer remote learning options to students, Fleming said.

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“There are many schools with larger populations from Sooke to Surrey that will offer a blend of in-class and remote learning,” said Fleming.

“Some districts from Coquitlam to Cowichan are staggering pickup and drop-off times as well as classroom break and lunch times. Whether it’s in-class or blended learning, any student who requires additional support will always be prioritized for full-time, in-class learning.”

BC Liberal education critic Dan Davies said Wednesday’s announcement left parents with unanswered questions about access to hybrid education models and distributed learning.

“We were hoping to hear some clarity today on the minister’s announcement … we did not really hear much of anything around that decision, it was basically handed over again to the districts to sort that out,” he said.

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“It’s going to create a real disparity between and among our school districts.”

Davies said parents were also left with little clarity around whether their children would be able to keep spaces in highly sought-after choice programs such as French Immersion.

Varying plans

Primary and middle school students will attend school full time and be grouped into “learning cohorts” of 60 or fewer staff and students.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ottawa giving provinces $2B for back-to-school safety

In the Saanich School District, for example, elementary school cohorts will be aligned by grade, and play areas will be divided into zones to help with physical distancing.

Saanich middle school students will get most of their instruction from their homeroom teachers, while electives will be maintained within their cohorts.

Most secondary students will attend school for at least a part of each day. Learning cohorts will be held to no more than 120 people.

Click to play video 'Survey finds majority of Surrey parents reluctant to send kids back to school' Survey finds majority of Surrey parents reluctant to send kids back to school
Survey finds majority of Surrey parents reluctant to send kids back to school – Aug 26, 2020

About 70 per cent of districts, including Surrey and Vancouver, will have secondary students in a “quarter” system that will allow them to take two classes at a time over four eight-week semesters. The format allows for more student choice within learning groups, Fleming said.

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Vancouver is among the districts that have opted for a hybrid model that will see students take one in-person class in the morning and an online class in the afternoon. Vancouver students will also have flex time to receive personal assistance and take certain electives.

In Surrey, Grade 8 and 9 students will attend class 100 per cent of the time. Senior-level Surrey students will be taught in smaller learning cohorts of 30 people, and will do some of their afternoon classwork through blended and online learning.

Read more: Coronavirus: Details revealed for B.C’s return-to-school plan in September

Other districts, including Chilliwack, Nelson and Sooke will have students take one class at a time for five-week stretches to maximize in-class time with the same teacher, Fleming said.

Masks will be mandatory in all districts for staff, middle school and high school students in high-traffic areas and outside their learning groups when physical distancing can not be maintained.

The provincial plan also calls for all students and staff to do a daily self-health assessment and stay home if sick.

Districts will stagger start times, breaks and lunch periods to reduce student interactions between cohorts.

Schools will see enhanced daily cleaning, with high-touch surfaces cleaned twice a day.

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Read more: B.C. school staff, middle and secondary students will be required to wear masks in high-traffic areas

School administrators will begin contacting parents this week to share the plans and confirm student attendance.

Teachers and staff will return to schools on Sept. 8 for a two-day health and safety orientation.

Students will return on Sept. 10 for their own orientations.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $2 billion fund to help provinces pay for COVID-19 safety measures in schools.