Teachers and school staff returned to classrooms across B.C. Tuesday as they prepare for an unprecedented school year in what is being considered an orientation week for staff and students.
Students had been slated to return to school on Sept. 8, but that was changed over the summer to allow staff and administrators additional time to make sure schools are ready.
School staff will spend the next two days meeting with their school’s joint health and safety committees. According to the province that will allow teachers and staff to review health and safety protocols, finalize cohort groups, and “confirm lesson plans that align with the new normal in schools.”
Most students are expected to return to the classroom on Thursday, but the focus for them won’t be on in-class learning until next week.
They will also have two orientation days, which the province says will allow them to get assigned to their new classes and cohorts, and practise their new routines, including moving safely around the school.
On CTV Morning Live Tuesday, Education Minister Rob Fleming said he had seen preparations underway in several schools over the past week.
“Very busy places. Lots of teachers, support staff coming in early, working together as a team making adjustments to their schools,” Fleming said. “It’s been an incredibly busy time, unlike any other, no doubt about it.”
Fleming says the province has been working closely with districts allocating federal funding for the school restart plan based on local priorities.
“It’s going to look different on what you should spend the money on in Burns Lake, than it would in Surrey, for example,” he said.
He says Surrey has spent an estimated $12.5 million on additional cleaning services, with roughly 140 additional custodians hired.
“That’s a good investment to meet the health and safety protocols of cleaning high-touch surfaces....doing the deep cleaning between school shifts,” Fleming said.
“They’re also going to spend, like other districts, money on hiring additional teachers to support kids who aren’t physically attending school.”
The B.C. Teachers' Federation has voiced concern about what it believes to be a lack of preventative measures in some schools.
"Inside classrooms, there is no physical distancing, and there is no mask-wearing policy,” Teri Mooring with the BCTF said Monday.
"Teachers are to go into schools and see whether portable hand-washing stations have been put into classrooms where there are no sinks. We have lots of older buildings, lots of older schools in B.C....windows that don’t open.”
The union is pushing for districts to use their share of $242 million in federal funding to reduce class sizes through hiring teachers and ensuring remote and hybrid education options. Half of the money is being distributed by the province based on enrolment this fall, and the rest is expected in January.
Surrey is one of the school districts that has rolled out a hybrid learning option for students that includes a mix of online and in-class learning.
Jordan Tinney, the superintendent for Surrey schools, posted a video Tuesday explaining the plans for the week ahead, but also made an appeal to parents who haven’t communicated to the district yet about how their child will be learning this fall.
“It’s important we know exactly where you’re going to send your child. Because we have to form students into learning groups, and we want to get them in learning groups as quickly as possible to start the year,” Tinney said.
Premier John Horgan indicated last week that about 80 per cent of B.C. students are expected to return to class this fall in some capacity.
With files from CTV Vancouver’s Maria Weisgarber