Most of B.C.’s students are going back to class in September.

Starting Sept. 8th, students in Grades K-12 will return to school full-time as the province moves to Stage 2 of its Education Restart Plan.

With enhanced health guidelines in place, students and teachers will be organized into learning groups designed to reduce the number of people they will come into contact with.

Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, calls these learning groups a key aspect in a full return to school.

“The principle behind these learning groups is to create groups of students and staff who will remain together throughout this school year or term, and who primarily interact only with each other,” Dr. Henry said. “By creating these learning groups, students and staff within each group, will be able to safely spend time together, maintaining distance as much as possible, throughout the school year.” 

Dr. Henry explained that for elementary schools, each learning group will have at most, about 60 people.

“That seems like a lot; that’s not all in the same classroom, but it will be segregating by grades so that there’s less mingling in the school environment.”

For secondary school, it will be up to 100 people.

Dr. Henry said the foundational rules for safe, social interactions will apply in our schools.

“That includes washing hands regularly, maintaining a safe, physical distance both inside as much as possible but in particular with those outside of your learning group, using a mask if you choose, particularly in those areas where the distance cannot be maintained, and we’re talking about places like on the school buses and hallways, and incredibly important for students, staff, and educators: staying home if you are sick.” 

In June, the province moved to Stage 3 which was a voluntary return to class, and 200,000 students attended mostly on a part-time basis province-wide.

Education minister Rob Fleming said the classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development, adding that B.C. is  the only jurisdiction in Canada that brought students back into the classroom province-wide before the end of the school year.

“This has given us valuable information that we are using to develop our plans, ensuring health and safety at schools remain paramount,” Fleming added. 

All boards of education and independent school authorities must have health and safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, following the recently updated guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control.

The province is also investing $45.6 million as part of the BC COVID-19 Action Plan. 

The province says this investment will ensure the increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces, increased number of hand-hygiene stations and the availability of masks upon request, among other safety measures.

The ministry is developing operational guidelines that will further assist school districts and independent schools with their planning for September. 

An education steering committee including teachers, parents, Indigenous rightsholders, support staff, principals and vice-principals, school trustees and the public health sector has also been established to identify best practices and find solutions to potential issues.

Families will hear from their school district or school throughout the summer with updated health and safety guidelines for elementary, middle and secondary schools, as well as learning groups, schedules, enrolment and registration information with the final details being submitted to the ministry and posted online by the districts on Aug. 26th.  

“The safety of students and staff is paramount and the government will continue to make science-based decisions, following the expert advice of Dr. Henry and her public health team,” Fleming said.