As the first full week of school comes to a close, early attendance numbers show more than 85% of K-12 public school students returned for in-class learning, with increased staffing and supports, according to a Ministry of Education survey.
“It’s been incredible to see so many students being able to connect with their teachers, support staff and classmates again, and that school districts developed remote options for other students across B.C.,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Education. “Both as a parent and as Minister of Education, I’m grateful to educators and staff for the innovation, collaboration and hard work that went into getting schools ready for this safe restart, with local solutions to meet the specific needs of students and families.”
The Ministry of Education surveyed school districts and independent schools to find out what investments they were making and how they were supporting students and staff during the pandemic. To date, 44 public school districts and 129 independent schools have reported to the ministry.
In the summer, Fleming directed school districts to connect with families in their community to determine their return to school plans – and to confirm if they planned for their child to attend school classes. As part of this, all school boards were given the authority to offer remote options to students within their districts, as well as the tools needed to increase their existing programs to meet any demand. If a family needed alternative learning options, school districts were expected to work with families to provide remote options that keep children connected to their school communities.
Every school is following the strict provincial health and safety guidelines co-developed for K-12 with the teachers, school leaders, the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, parents and Indigenous rightsholders. Each district is using additional provincial and federal funding to meet its local needs and configurations of its schools.
In preparation for the September restart, many school districts hired staff and added staff hours. Of the school districts that have responded to date, 1,526 new positions have been created:
- 624 additional teachers hired in 34 school districts and 157,000 additional staff hours;
- 73 educational assistants hired in 12 school districts and 5,100 additional staff hours;
- 542 custodial staff in 38 school districts hired and 386,000 additional staff hours; and
- 287 positions such as school counsellors, bus drivers or administrative staff in 23 school districts and 38,000 additional staff hours.
To support students who are either learning remotely, or for secondary students in some regions who are having a blend of online and in-class learning, districts created locally developed programs and made investments in new technology. Thousands of laptops and tablets have been purchased for remote or online learning. School District 39 (Vancouver) used restart funding to purchase 2,000 devices for students, School District 61 (Greater Victoria) purchased 1,660 new devices and School District 44 (North Vancouver) purchased 1,100 devices.
As part of implementing the health and safety guidelines, there are over 20,400 hand-sanitizing stations available for students and staff. Of the survey respondents, 88% upgraded their air filtration systems.
The ministry has also provided funding for 1.5 million non-medical masks, enough for every public-school staff member and student to have at least two masks. To date, respondents of the survey have purchased more than 2.1 million items of personal protective equipment (PPE), including transparent masks for hearing-impaired people and face shields for staff. In addition, Canadian Shield has donated an additional 54,500 face shields for K-12 schools in B.C. This adds to the inventory of PPE that will be available for students and staff.
To support families, funding has allowed districts like School District 61 (Greater Victoria) to expand the number of students receiving meal programs, and School District 59 (Peace River South) brought in family support workers to assess the needs of families living in remote communities, ensuring they are connected to meal programs close to home.
School districts also created local solutions for mental health support. School District 71 (Comox Valley), has added four youth and family counsellors, provided trauma-informed training for all staff, created a community resource guide and is hosting a webinar series. School District 62 (Sooke) is providing all staff with trauma-informed training, and it has also implemented a mental health literacy program for secondary students.
The Province is making a first-of-its-kind, made-in-B.C. mouth rinse gargle sample collection available for school-aged students who require a COVID-19 test. This new saline method doesn’t require a health-care professional to collect the sample, and it is intended to encourage more students to get tested if they have symptoms.
- The Province provided $45.6 million for a safe K-12 school restart. To support B.C.’s response, the federal government is also providing up to $242.4 million in one-time funding for the 2020-21 school year, with the first half of the payment in September.
- B.C.’s Ministry of Education has developed a five-stage approach to operate schools, depending on risk of transmission and guidance from the provincial health officer. This helps school districts know what to expect if there is a significant change to school operations required as part of B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The mouth rinse sample collection will be offered through local health authorities. Families can find testing locations on an interactive map to find the centre closest to them: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/3862560c5a41418e9d78f4f81688e9d0
For more info on back-to-school plans, learning groups and health and safety guidelines, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/k-12/covid-19-return-to-school
For more information about the mouth rinse gargle sample collection available for school-aged students, visit: