Different entrances, different bells and different organization of courses will give students in B.C. schools a lot to get used to as B.C. resumes in-class education in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students return Sept. 10 after two days of staff orientation for the procedures and equipment that have been put in place. Education Minister Rob Fleming says the schools are prepared with improved ventilation, hand sanitizing and in some cases outdoor spaces for breaks and instruction. School districts have been contacting families to prepare them for changes to create learning groups and provide masks for riding buses and navigating hallways.
“I know as a parent I’ve been getting all kinds of emails from the school principal about which entrances and exits your student must use, and staggered start times,” Fleming told CFAX radio in Victoria Sept. 8. “So there’s a lot to absorb. Washing your hands, using portable hand sanitizing stations, paying attention to the bell schedules because they’re different for different students, staying in your learning group, physically distancing wherever possible, both in the classroom and especially in common areas, and wearing a mask if you’re a middle or secondary student who is needing to practice physical distancing outside of the learning group.”
Federal and provincial funds specific to COVID-19 preparations are being used in some districts to set up tents and outdoor structures. The extra money can also be used to cover higher heating bills that will come in as indoor ventilation is maximized and cooler weather sets in. B.C. school heating systems have been fitted with specialized filters to clear air.
If a coronavirus case is suspected, designated on-site staff isolate the student or staff member, and regional public health authorities are the “de facto medical health officers” for each school district they serve, Fleming said. Once a case is confirmed by testing, public health investigators contact everyone who may have been exposed to the infected person.
“We definitely hope we’re not going to see that, but we have 1,600 schools in B.C. and we need to be prepared in case we do see that,” Fleming said.