Students, families, teachers and staff in B.C. should plan for a “near-normal” return to school in September, officials say.
On Thursday, the province announced it will drop the cohort system and restore many of the extracurricular activities cancelled in 2020-21 as COVID-19 cases continue to drop.
“Students will be back in the classroom for full-time in-person instruction and a return to a near normal for the start of school in September. Students will no longer be grouped into cohorts or learning groups,” Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside told a news conference.
“It is also expected the current guidance on gatherings, extra curriculars activities and sports will be relaxed in time for the new school year and that is good news for everyone.”
This fall, students can expect to learn in classrooms full-time. Online learning will still be available, similar to any other school year.
No decision has been made on whether masks will be required in classrooms. When they announced B.C.’s restart plan earlier this month, health officials said they expect masks to no longer be mandatory in indoor public spaces as of July 1.
The province is providing $43.6 million to support ongoing health and safety measures, First Nations and Métis students, mental health services, rapid response teams and to address learning impacts to students.
A majority of the money, $25.6 million in new one-time funding, will be pandemic-specific to support necessary cleaning and disinfecting, hand hygiene, improved ventilation and supply restocking of personal protection equipment.
Students will continue to be required to complete daily health checks and stay home when feeling sick.
“This was a very different school year for everyone, and school communities have done an exemplary job adapting to the challenges we all faced,” provincial health official Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
“Now, as we transition to a new phase and continue with immunizations throughout the province, students and educators can look forward to returning to a school environment that will be much closer to what they are accustomed to.”
To date, more than 50 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds in B.C. have received their first vaccine dose.
Henry has said younger children may be eligible for a vaccine by the fall, but nothing has been approved yet.
Teri Mooring, the president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, has called on the province to require mask-wearing for older students come September.
“We don’t want to hear that everything is going to be normal in the fall. We do understand all adults would have had the availability of being vaccinated. Not all students will be,” she said in an interview prior to the news conference.
The union is also asking the government for financial support to avoid layoffs as a result of the significant drop in funds due to travel restrictions preventing international students from enrolling.