Education Minister Rob Fleming’s announcement last week that schools would be fully open in September took some people by surprise.
Teacher reps, for example, had been part of a steering committee and working groups about what education would look like this fall, but were not expecting the July 29 pronouncement.
It makes sense to provide as much notice as possible of schooling plans, of course, and the first day of a new school year — Sept. 8 — is not that far away. Still, what a school day will look like during what is called Stage Two of the Five Stages Framework raises as many questions as it answers.
B.C. took a dry run at opening schools in June, with attendance not being mandatory and in-class teaching offered only a few days per week. Approximately 30 per cent of the province’s students used that option. (It should be noted that in-school teaching had also been given to children of essential service workers earlier in the pandemic, something that was not widely publicized.)
In deciding to reopen schools full-time, the province wisely took lessons from the June experience, various studies and from countries that have resumed at-school learning in recent months. The consensus seems to be that the benefits of in-person schooling to youth, families and society outweigh the risks. As the education ministry states and other entities confirm, key to the issue is “the fact that children are at a much lower risk of developing and transmitting COVID-19.”
By instituting public health measures that most people are now comfortable with, and other policies that should not be hard to accept — and barring a dramatic change in B.C.’s transmission rates — the decision to reopen schools is certainly the correct one.
Still, families, teachers, administrators and support staff are understandably worried about how schooling during COVID will unfold on the ground. The education ministry and local school district must be open to considering all suggestions from their partners in order to provide the best and safest return to school this fall.