VICTORIA — School districts will decide where best to devote more than $242 million in federal funding to reopen British Columbia schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Education Minister Rob Fleming.
Fleming said Thursday school districts have different needs as they prepare to welcome back hundreds of thousands of students next week during the pandemic.
He said he's heard about calls for smaller class sizes and more teachers, concerns about physical distancing in classrooms and more remote learning options, but every district is different, and they will decide what is most needed.
"This funding will be used in different ways by different school districts based on what their priorities are for additional resources for COVID safety," Fleming said at a news conference.
"It may be hiring additional teachers and supporting remote learning options where the need for that is great. It may be different in rural or remote communities where the emphasis might be on transportation."
The federal money will be dispersed to school districts on a per pupil basis in two payments later this month and in January, he said. Fleming said the initial amount is $101.1 million in September and the second amount set for January is $121.8 million.
Fleming said he's heard reports that some school districts are hiring more teachers to support remote learning programs, but "we don't want to be prescriptive, understanding that different districts will have considerably different priorities based on what kind of needs they have."
Schools in B.C. are scheduled to reopen next Thursday with studies resuming in learning groups to reduce the number of people they come in contact with. For elementary and middle school students, groups will be no larger than 60 people. Secondary school groups will be capped at 120.
Back-to-school plans have been posted online for all 60 school districts with an aim to offer all instruction in classrooms.
But not all districts can offer full-time in-class learning including in Surrey, where a hybrid model that includes online learning will be offered.
Some districts will stagger pickup and drop-off times as well as break and lunch times to minimize contact during the pandemic.
Teachers will return to classrooms on Tuesday for a two-day health and safety orientation before students have their own orientation that week, including on how to stay within their learning groups.
B.C. Teachers Federation president Teri Mooring said she wanted Fleming to provide districts with more defined guidelines.
"We would have liked to have seen the minister come out today with a much more narrow list of options for the expenditure of that money," Mooring said in an interview.
"We understand there are differences across the province in terms of school districts, however, we're going to have classes of 30 students and there's already going to be a lot of disparity across the province."
She said Fleming should have advised school districts to provide more remote learning options and hire more teachers and staff.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2020.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press