The B.C. government has suspended classes in the Kindergarten-Grade 12 school system due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but teachers will return to work after spring break to deliver some instruction as well as child care for essential-services workers.
B.C. becomes the last province in Canada to address the impact of COVID-19 on its schools. Its measures, announced Tuesday, are similar to Alberta’s, which took the extraordinary step of cancelling classes in its public schools indefinitely.
B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming gave no indication of when classes might resume in British Columbia. He said work is still underway to determine how education will be delivered in the coming weeks, but he said Grade 12 students will still graduate, and all students who are on track to move to the next grade in the fall will do so.
“We’ve urged schools and school districts to begin planning now to ensure a continuity of learning while in-class instruction is suspended in B.C. schools indefinitely,” Mr. Fleming told reporters in Victoria.
“We also expect school districts and independent schools will have plans in place to maintain some level of service for children and people who are performing essential services on the front-line to combat COVID-19. People like teachers, medical-health professionals, first responders and pharmacists.”
Almost all of B.C.'s 550,000 students are currently on spring break and were expected to return to school on March 30. He said the province is still working to determine how many school-age children will be eligible for in-school care.
“We don’t have all the answers today, this is a fast-moving situation.”
However, he said he expects students who are on track to graduate this year will still be able to transition to postsecondary education in the fall. And he said he hopes that schools that provide social services such as meal programs to vulnerable students, and daycare services, will be able to maintain those programs. “Schools are already considering these issues in their planning while we work together through these extraordinary times.”
The BC Teachers’ Federation welcomed the decision. “This is the right decision to help protect teachers, students, school staff and all of our families,” the union said in a statement. The union assured its members that they can take the spring break as holiday time, with the details of how the curriculum will be taught to be worked out when they return to their schools at the end of the month. “Take that time to give yourself that break.”
Alberta’s announcement on schools came on Sunday evening came, a day after Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Deena Hinshaw, said school closings would need to last until September to be effective.
“If we do make the decision to close schools, it will be considering long-term closure. This pandemic will not end in a matter of weeks and there won't be a clear opportunity to reopen schools, likely not until September at the earliest,” Dr. Hinshaw said.
Some provinces, like Ontario, have chosen to shutter schools completely for a period of time, meaning both staff and students are at home. Ontario’s schools are closed for two weeks following March break. The province’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce indicated that his government was looking at how to deliver some form of curriculum to students.
Provinces such as Manitoba have said that children should stay home, but teachers would be asked to remain on the job to prepare lessons for their students to complete at home where possible. Other staff would prepare schools for the return of students, which could include cleaning and maintenance. Manitoba is suspending classes effective March 23 and for three weeks, which includes the week before spring break and the week after the break.
In Alberta, too, the government has said that while students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 are expected to stay home, teachers and other school staff will still be expected to work, either from home or at their workplace, to ensure students meet learning expectations. The government has said that decisions on how to do this are still being made.
Quebec has also offered free emergency daycare for health-care workers.
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