COVID-19: B.C. students to return to school in staggered restart

Adrian Dix, minister of health, provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic on Dec. 29, 2021. || B.C. government photo.
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A full return to school for K-12 students will be delayed until Jan. 10 to give public health officials and schools time to adapt to the impacts of the Omicron variant.

Staff will return on Jan. 3 and 4 to implement enhanced safety plans before students return to class, according to a media release from the province. During this time, schools will be open for a limited number of students in particular need. School districts will communicate to families about how this process will work, the province said.

“Schools have safety protocols in place that have kept students and staff in school over the past two years, but as the pandemic changes, our protocols must change, too,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “That’s why schools will be implementing enhanced public health measures to ensure we can continue the in-person learning that is so important for well-being and mental health.”

The delayed return is supported by an order from the provincial health officer and applies to all public and independent schools.

“We know how important it is for students to return to safe, in-person learning,” said Jennifer Whiteside, minister of education. “This extra time will allow the Ministry of Education and public health to better understand the impact of the Omicron variant on the education system, and school communities to prepare for students returning to class with enhanced safety measures. Safety is our top priority and we’re going to keep working with public health to ensure the right measures continue to be in place to keep students and staff safe.”

The Ministry of Education has developed an addendum to the Provincial COVID-19 Communicable Disease Guidelines for K-12 settings based on public health’s current knowledge of the Omicron variant. The guidelines were developed in collaboration with the BC Centre for Disease Control, Indigenous rights-holders and education partners, including teachers, parents and school administrators. The province said safety measures for schools will continue to be updated as needed in consultation with public health.

K-12 public and independent schools must implement enhanced safety measures, such as:

-Strategies to prevent crowding during class transition times;

-Hold school gatherings and events virtually. If they must be in-person, limit the number of people to no more than 50 per cent operating capacity;

-Hold staff-only gatherings (e.g., meetings, professional development activities) virtually whenever possible;

-Limit visitors to people supporting activities that directly benefit student learning and well-being (e.g., teacher candidates, immunizers, meal program volunteers, etc.);

-Pause extracurricular sports tournaments.

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