School life in B.C. is expected to return to near-normal next year.
This means starting in September, students won’t be in cohorts and learning groups, and will be back in classrooms full time.
Education minister, Jennifer Whiteside, added that, with most B.C.ers 12 and older expected to have two doses of a COVID vaccine by September, even more restrictions could .be eliminated.
“Pending further public health guidance, it’s also expected that current restrictions on gatherings, extra curricular activities, and sports will be relaxed in time for the new school year, and that’s good news for everyone,” she said. “I know we want to pass the pandemic together, and we’re currently moving in the right direction.”
Guidance on mask wearing will be confirmed later this summer.
Similar to any other school year, online learning programs will remain available for students.
The province also announced $43.6 million dollars in funding 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.
Whiteside says B.C. is one of the few jurisdictions that has kept schools open all year despite the pandemic, “thanks to the enormous collective efforts of everyone in the K-12 education system, and I extend my heartfelt thanks to them all.”
She added that the province will continue to work with the experts in the provincial health office and the provincial K-12 education steering committee throughout the summer to finalize plans and guidelines to ensure students and staff are safe for the next school year.
Of the $43.6 million announced, $25.6 million in new one-time, pandemic-specific funding will go towards supporting necessary cleaning and disinfecting, hand hygiene for students and staff, improving ventilation and restocking supplies of personal protection equipment.
The province says this funding will “also strengthen the commitments to First Nations and Métis students and provide more mental health supports for students and staff.”
Plus, money will be available to address learning impacts from the pandemic.
Earlier this year, the ministry told school districts that $5.9 million was available to be allocated to address learning impacts.
An additional $12.1 million is now being provided from the remaining 2020-21 school year operating grant.
Breakdown of the $25.6 million in new one-time funding:
- $14.4 million for health and safety, cleaning and supplies
- $5 million to support First Nations students and build capacity within First Nations Education Steering Committee and Métis Nation BC
- $5 million for mental health services
- $1.2 million for independent schools
Whiteside did stress that students will still need to complete daily health checks, stay home when feeling sick and practise diligent hand hygiene.
Public health teams and school health officers will continue to closely monitor cases of COVID-19 in schools and the community, and will continue to provide support and guidance as schools return in the fall.
“This was a very different school year for everyone, and school communities have done an exemplary job adapting to the challenges we all faced,” said provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.
“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.”
Rapid response teams, which have been in place since February in each of the five health authority regions, will continue in the fall.
The teams will focus on supporting recovery efforts in schools through a focus on academic, socio-emotional and mental health.
According to the province, they will also continue to provide streamlined communications at the local level to share information, support consistent practice of, and update where necessary, the K-12 health and safety guidelines.
The provincial K-12 education steering committee – made up of educators, parents, support workers, school leaders, trustees, representatives from the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and Métis Nation BC, and public health experts – will continue to work with the ministry and the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) in the summer to review and finalize school safety plans for the fall.
It’s expected the current guidelines used in schools over the past year will be replaced by updated guidelines in August.
- There are roughly 1,900 K-12 schools in B.C. To date, 40 have closed temporarily for a short period of time during this school year, which the province says “has resulted in schools being open and safe 99.998 percent of total school days.”
- Two studies conducted by health authorities during the 2020-21 school year found: in Vancouver Coastal Health, 92% of school-associated cases of COVID-19 were acquired from outside of the school environment; and in Fraser Health, 87 percent of school-associated cases were acquired through community/household transmission, not from the school setting.