Schools are expected to return to “near normal” conditions this September, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said Thursday (June 17).
Whiteside said that there will no longer be cohorts or learning groups and that current restrictions on gatherings, sports and extra-curriculars are forecasted to be lifted.
The education minister took a moment to laud the work of teachers and school staff, as well as parents and students, as she praised the province’s school plans over the past year.
“Evidence shows that these plans were indeed successful,” Whiteside said.
The province has released limited data on school infections. Regularly updated provincial statistics are only divided by age group, not by whether those in question were in school or were infected there. A total of 8,330 children under the age of 10 have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, along with 15,764 youth ages 10 to 19. Together, they make up just over 16 per cent of COVID infections in B.C.
Whiteside announced an additional $25.6 million in new, one-time school funding for continued enhanced cleaning measures, rapid response teams, mental health help and to help Indigenous students.
“Each (school district) board of education will build a COVID-19 recovery plan that meets the needs nuanced needs of the communities that they serve,” she said.
Guidance on masking will be announced at a later date, Whiteside noted.
However, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that other measures like staying home when sick will remain in place for the long-term and students and staff will need to fill out a COVID check each day.
“We will still need to watch and manage COVID and other respiratory infection in the fall,” Henry said.
“By September we will be back to a much more normal school experience.”
Students in B.C. were in classrooms the entire past school year, with few exceptions, unlike in other provinces like Ontario and Alberta. While the province has faced criticism for the decision from the teachers’ union and some parents, health officials have continued to insist that infections in schools were low and worth keeping children in school.
For parents concerned about their children returning to classrooms this fall at a time when B.C. is expected to lift the vast majority off COVID measures, Henry said that vaccinating adults and older teenagers will protect younger kids who cannot yet get the vaccines.
“Structured environments with children are not that risky,” she said, adding that public health has learned that “tranmision is rare in those settings.”
B.C. began to vaccinate teenagers ages 12 to 17 years old at the end of May after Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine for that age group and Whiteside said Thursday that more than half of that group has received their first dose. Moderna has now also applied for Health Canada authorization for its vaccine for that age group.
However, children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for any COVID vaccine.
More to come.