Education Minister Rob Fleming said Wednesday he was impressed by the "thoughtful, innovative approach" taken by the province's 60 school districts in crafting their pandemic-ready back-to-school plans.
Across the province, students can expect a gradual restart of classes beginning Sept. 10, with measures in place to prevent widespread COVID-19 transmission.
Wednesday marked the deadline for all 60 school districts in B.C. to have their return-to-school plans available to parents. Each district should have its local plan posted online.
"There are consequences for children who are not in school for a prolonged period of time," said Fleming, saying it was extremely important to get students back into a school setting.
"Education is a must for all children ... and it must be delivered in the best and safest way possible," he said.
Fleming's update comes as parents and teachers are expressing their anxieties about sending children back to school during the pandemic. The B.C. Teachers' Federation has called for smaller class sizes and stricter face mask regulations to protect children and adults from COVID-19.
"We are going to remain flexible," said Fleming, adding many districts were adding options that weren't conceivable a few months ago.
Plans reflect each district's needs, minister says
At the centre of the province's guidelines, released July 29, is a plan to place students in learning groups of 60-120 children that will allow for social interaction while limiting potential exposure to the novel coronavirus and simplifying the process of contact tracing.
One of these cohorts could include, for example, two elementary school homeroom classes that eat lunch together and share recess time, or a group of high school students who are taking the same classes.
Face masks will be required in high-traffic areas like hallways and on buses but not in classrooms.
Each district's plan follows these core principles, but the details of each plan will depend on the student population, the type of building/facilities available and course offerings.
"It will look different in different parts of the province. It always does. That's the great diversity of education in B.C.," said Fleming.
"All districts will have funding secured and funding flexibility to be able to continue to serve communities."
Fleming says all elementary and middle schools will have access to full-time in-class instruction in accordance with public health measures. Secondary schools with larger populations will offer a blend of in-class and remote learning.
The vast majority of school districts are moving to a quarterly system, where student are taught two courses per quarter, to offer the most student choice and reduce physical contact between staff and students. Some school districts, however, are moving to an eight-course system — where there is one course taught every five weeks.
Some school districts released plan details early
Recent days had already seen a number of school districts roll out their plans for September.
B.C.'s largest school district, Surrey, offered a sneak peek last week at its plans for students in Grade 8 and up.
Secondary students in grades 10-12 will only have 30 peers in their cohort, while students in grades eight and nine will have 60.
The school year will run on a quarterly system. Each day will be broken into two blocks, with secondary students spending one block in the classroom and the other primarily online and children in grades eight and nine spending both blocks in class.
District superintendent Jordan Tinney has said the main focus of Surrey's plan is to keep those cohort sizes as small as possible.