Most students will return to B.C. classrooms this fall, but details are vague


Most students in British Columbia will return to full-time, in-class learning this September, but questions remain about how some high schools will adapt class schedules to accommodate new COVID-19 guidelines.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said Wednesday that when schools open on Sept. 8, students will be grouped into cohorts called “learning groups” in efforts to mitigate potential spread of the novel coronavirus and ensure quicker contact tracing.

These learning groups can include up to 60 people in elementary and middle school, and up to 120 in secondary school. The students won’t necessarily be in the same class, but will be able to interact during breaks and in common areas such as libraries and playgrounds.

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Most elementary schools will be able to accommodate these cohorts with minimal modifications. But high schools in which students move from class to class may have to overhaul programming, with options such as reduced course loads, moving to a quarterly system and remote online or self-directed learning.

Stephanie Higginson, president of the BC School Trustees Association, said the change will require a complete rethinking of existing programming.

“If we keep trying to stick a square peg into a round hole, it’s not going to fit,” Ms. Higginson said Wednesday. “In order for folks to be able to conceptualize this, we really have to erase everything and start again, and think about different ways of being in the school.”

Dr. Henry said the learning group caps are a balance of allowing students to socialize, while also minimizing risks of transmission.

“We need to think of it more like a work place, where we take precautions but we have our work bubble as well, and we make sure that we’re not having contact as much as possible [while] also reducing the numbers of people we’re encountering,” she said.

The government will distribute $45.6-million to school districts and independent schools to increase safety measures, such as cleaning high-contact surfaces, adding more hand-hygiene stations and having reusable masks available upon request.

Masks will not be mandatory for either staff or students, but may be recommended in some scenarios, such as when students take public transportation.