British Columbia Officials Promising “Near Normal” Back to School in September

British Columbia officials say September’s return to school will be near to normal, with students no longer organized into cohorts and an expected return of sports, drama and other extracurricular activities.

The plans being laid out now hinge on projections that most adults and children will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the new school year, according to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“The reason we can do this is because we have safe and effective vaccines protecting people across British Columbia,” said Henry.

“Our goal in particular for our schools is to get to the point that we can take the same approach that we do now with other communicable diseases like influenza or measles, where we can manage them on a local and individual basis without having those broad impacts on society that we have had in this past year.”

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said a decision on whether some students will still have to wear masks will be made later this summer, in accordance with public health guidelines.

Whiteside said expectations will remain that students and staff complete a daily health check, stay home if sick and continue to practise good hand hygiene.

Unlike several other provinces, students in British Columbia stayed in classrooms throughout the school year with a number of safety measures like distancing, masks and handwashing stations in place.

Speaking earlier on Thursday, Teri Mooring, president of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, said masks might still be required because younger students won’t be vaccinated.

Ms. Mooring also called for a degree of transparency on vaccination rates.

“We’ll need to see the rates for older students and we’ll need to see the regional breakdowns as well, because what we’re seeing right now in the province is that there are certain areas that are really lagging behind,” she said on CBC’s The Early Edition earlier in the day.

Advocates said the plan will also need to accommodate students with special needs or students who are at higher risk from severe disease from COVID-19

“Families who have children who are immunocompromised or who have family members who are [immunocompromised] are very concerned about a return to so-called normal and the way that things were previously,” said BCEdAccess founder and chair Tracy Humphreys.

Both Mooring and Humphreys said the education sector will need an overarching mental health strategy, for teachers and students alike, to help with reintegration after the previous 15 months. They also called for trauma-informed and anti-racism training for teachers and administrators.

The first day of school for the 2021-22 year in British Columbia is currently set for Sept. 7, the day after Labour Day. It’s the same day British Columbia is expected to enter Step 4 of its reopening plan, which would mean masks would be a personal choice and social interactions could return to normal.

Masks are currently mandatory for students from Grade 4 to Grade 12.

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