British Columbia’s COVID-19 Back to School Plan

British Columbia's COVID-19 Back to School Plan | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Normally, the beginning of a new school year would be one of the most exciting times for our kids. For younger children, it may be their very first time starting full-time schooling; while others may be moving on from elementary school into high school, or are recent high school graduates now attending College or University, as well as all of the different extracurricular activities that come along with that – such as sports and other after school programs, and making new friends. In these COVID times, however, the beginning of the new school year will also understandable come with much anxiety for both children and parents, as well as educators.

To allow schools time to better prepare for the return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the school year has been pushed back. When schools do re-open, extra protection measures will be in place to keep kids and school staff safe, including the following:

• All middle and secondary school students and staff will be provided 2 masks upon their return to school in September. Masks will be required when travelling through high-traffic areas such as hallways, school buses, and any time they go outside of the classroom or learning group and are unable to safely socially distance from others. Students and staff will also be able to wear masks in the classroom. Exemptions for mask-wearing will be made for students and staff who are unable to wear them due to medical reasons. Masks will not be required for elementary school students.

• Close, in-person interactions will be reduced, and students and staff are encouraged to follow social distancing guidelines (keeping at least 2 metres apart) where possible and limit physical contact. Plexiglass shields may also be used in areas where that 2-metre distance cannot be well-maintained, such as school cafeterias or office/reception areas, and break times (lunch and recess) may also be staggered.

• Learning groups will also be set up, which will consist of the same groups of students and staff throughout one school quarter, semester or year. A learning group can consist of a group of 20 to 30 students, multiple classes that join together (i.e. for music or physical education), as well as teachers, support staff and education assistants.

• In order to control traffic flow, floor markings and posters will be placed in areas throughout the school, such as hallways and classrooms. This may include one-way hallways and specific designated entrances and exists.

• For children who ride school buses, it is recommended that they be loaded from back to front, while offloaded from front to back, and have assigned seating where possible. Buses will also be cleaned and disinfected regularly in accordance with public health guidelines and the BC CDC. School districts should also keep a list of passenger names that they can share with public health officials in the event that contract tracing needs to occur.

• While there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transferred via textbooks and other paper-based items, there are still many high-touch areas and surfaces in schools that should be cleaned frequently. This includes laminated materials, doorknobs, light switches, toilet handles, tables, desks, chairs, keyboards and toys.

• Students are also encouraged to label their personal items and not share them with others.

• As always, regular hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and children should be both encouraged and allowed to do so while at school. Hand-sanitizer is another effective way to clean hands if a sink, soap and water is not readily available.

To learn more about B.C.’s back to school plan, visit:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/k-12/covid-19-return-to-school