Thursday marked the first day of school for many students across B.C.
The reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic meant changes to the school day, everything from different entry and exit points on school grounds to varying lunch and recess times.
All staff, and middle and secondary school students must wear masks in common areas such as hallways and school buses.
Students will be sorted into learning groups, known as cohorts, 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.
Teachers have expressed concern about the reopening of schools, with many taking to social media to express concerns about how to properly maintain social distance in the classroom.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the expectation is students will be one metre apart when looking forward and should avoid face-to-face contact when closer than two metres. In many classrooms, even maintaining three feet in distance will be hard due to physical limitations.
What happens if someone in school gets sick?
Prior to the start of the school day, parents must ask their children how they are feeling. If the child is not feeling well, they should not attend school.
In most districts, students who start showing symptoms of COVID-19 while in school will have to put on a mask and isolate until a parent can pick them up.
There will be cases when students, teachers, and staff will be asked to get a COVID-19 test based on the symptoms they are showing.
There may be rare cases in which entire learning groups may have to isolate.
Each school has a liaison who will work closely with the local health authority.
On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province will identify all schools where COVID-19 cases arise.
B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said Thursday it would be up to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to decide whether to report cases tied to schools.
“Obviously they do identify workplaces or residential care facilities when they have to,” he said. “An outbreak is two or more cases, so generally outbreaks are disclosed to anybody that works or is involved in a facility.”
“The main thing is to have an investigation that determines which individuals may have been exposed and to take steps to protect them and protect others to prevent further exposure.”
Concerns over remote learning
Some students will not return because of their own or a family member’s health or general fears about contracting COVID-19.
Parents who have opted for online learning fear their kids will lose coveted spots in specialty programs like French immersion.
BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said parents were left to arrange online learning with principals over the summer because the province didn’t guide school districts on a particular approach.
Fleming said school districts are trying to meet families’ needs but Mooring is calling on the province to take a lead by providing more consistent and equitable options.
A patchwork response means some school districts are offering from five or six weeks of remote learning to about four months.
— With files from Nadia Stewart, Richard Zussman, Gord Macdonald and The Canadian Press
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