A physical distancing sign is seen during a media tour of Hastings Elementary school in Vancouver, Wednesday, September 2, 2020. British Columbia’s education minister hopes the government will be able to entirely avoid school closures under any scenario but it would defer to advice from public health officials should COVID-19 cases worsen. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A physical distancing sign is seen during a media tour of Hastings Elementary school in Vancouver, Wednesday, September 2, 2020. British Columbia’s education minister hopes the government will be able to entirely avoid school closures under any scenario but it would defer to advice from public health officials should COVID-19 cases worsen. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. education minister wants to avoid school closures completely

Four out of 643 schools in the Fraser Health district have been closed

British Columbia’s education minister hopes the government will be able to avoid school closures under any scenario but he would defer to advice from public health officials should COVID-19 cases worsen.

Rob Fleming said Tuesday that the government would look to keep schools and daycares open even if the province were to lock down the economy to stop community transmission.

“That doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t amend how we deliver education,” he said in an interview.

“But I think we’ve learned from the early days of the pandemic that shutting down schools was probably a mistake when we should have focused on safety protocols.”

Those involved in the education system agree that it is important to keep children in school so they do not suffer developmental setbacks, he said.

Fleming said schools are safe although there is “increasing concern” about community transmission in the regions covered by Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health, especially in Surrey.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced bans related to social gatherings, group fitness, workplaces and travel in the two regions on Nov. 7 to curb the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions are in place until Monday.

Fleming said he is waiting for the results of those restrictions before making further decisions with advice from health officials.

“It may include a modified break schedule over the winter. It may include some direction from public health on the various layers of protection in the school including masks. It may look at some other amendments we may make.”

Four out of 643 schools in the Fraser Health district have been closed either because of an outbreak or staffing shortages related to COVID-19. The other schools remain open and the level of transmission remains “incredibly low,” Fleming said.

Henry has said schools are a reflection of what’s happening in the community, but COVID-19 transmission rates are lower in schools than elsewhere.

“It’s incredibly important for families and for children to have in-person, in-class (education), but we’re looking at all of our options,” she told a news conference on Monday, referring to an extended winter break.

Fleming said officials believe children may be safer in schools.

“If you were to send kids home right now and suspend school, public health would be very concerned that kids would be having playdates and all kinds of informal activities that would actually put them in an unregulated area of greater concern, which would be transmission that occurs in households.”

READ MORE: B.C. teachers’ union calls on Horgan to limit Fraser Health class sizes to 15 students

Thanksgiving and Halloween gatherings brought spikes in cases and officials are worried the winter break could bring similar results, he said.

“We do want students and families to enjoy time together, and we want them to have a much-needed rest. So, we’re going to consider that. We haven’t made any decisions yet.”

B.C. officials are watching a number of western European countries for how they manage their schools and what community restrictions they implement to curb the spread of the virus, Fleming said.

On Nov. 2, Germany embarked on a four-week “lockdown light” where restaurants, bars, sports and leisure facilities were closed, but schools and shops remain open.

France, which has had more infections since the pandemic started than any other European country, is in the midst of a month-long lockdown that has left most adults confined to their homes for all but one hour a day, although schools remain open.

“We look, of course, to other provinces, that we’ve been in close contact with. And early on in the development of our plan, we leaned most heavily on Denmark and New Zealand to create the K-12 safety guidelines for B.C. schools,” Fleming said.

The minister stressed the importance of children and youth “being around peers” and learning not just academics but also social skills, including how to cope during a pandemic.

“Kids are actually quite adaptable, they’ve learned, you know,” he said.

“I think we worried, will they wash their hands? Will they follow the rules and stay two metres apart in the hallways and not get into each other’s personal space, be respectful? And they’ve shown they’re very, very good at that.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusEducationSchools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Angelique Houlihan gets her COVID-19 vaccine jab last week at the community-wide clinic. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
Vaccine clinic continues this week

Plenty of booking spots available

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

Most Read