British Columbia Premier John Horgan speaks during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C. would not send students back to school if there was ‘overwhelming risk’: Horgan

Plan has left many parents across the province worried about their children’s safety

The province would not send students back into classrooms if there was an “overwhelming risk” of COVID-19 transmission, Premier John Horgan told reporters Thursday (Aug. 6).

The premier was peppered with questions during a press conference about the new Surrey hospital.

Students are expected to return to school full time after the Labour Day weekend. They will be split up into “learning groups,” which will consist of 60 students for the youngest kids and up to 120 for the oldest ones. Schools are exempt from the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

READ MORE: B.C. prepares back-to-school plan for students in COVID-19

READ MORE: B.C. to roll out ‘learning groups’ as part of COVID-19 back-to-school plan

“People will disagree, there’s no question about that,” Horgan said.

The plan has left many parents across the province worried about their children’s safety. One petition started by parents calling for the return-to-school plan to be option had just under 24,000 signatures as of Thursday morning.

Horgan said he understood that parents were anxious.

“This is the biggest challenge the education community has ever had,” he said, adding that schools will need to be flexible in how each community approaches the return-to-school plan.

“I’m confident… [the school year] will be different when we finish than when we started.”

Earlier this week, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she was comfortable returning to school after Labour Day, despite concerns about COVID-19 transmission during the long weekend. Speaking Thursday, Horgan said that “if it takes a few more days to do it, so be it.”

Specifics will “vary from school to school, from district to districts.” Older students are more likely to end up taking some classes online, he added, while younger children are more in need of classroom time.

The province has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in recent days, with 47 new cases announced Wednesday and 146 over the B.C. Day long weekend. In June, only a couple cases emerged in schools, both in teachers that health authorities said caught the virus in non-school settings.

Horgan said the increase was anticipated as B.C. went into Phase 3 and increased interactions. He reminded British Columbians that the pandemic was not over and that physical distancing and mask-wearing was still important.

READ MORE: Alberta to require masks at schools this fall, but still no mandate in B.C.

READ MORE: ‘We all have anxieties’: B.C.’s top doctor addresses return-to-school fears amid COVID-19

There has been no provincial health order to mandate masks in B.C., although health officials have encouraged people to wear them when physical distancing is not possible. There is also no requirement for students or staff to wear masks when school returns in September, even as Alberta announced this week that masks would be mandatory for students in Grade 4 and above, as well as for staff.

However, the province will be giving $45.6 million in funding to schools to ensure adequate and regular cleaning of high-contact services, as well as increasing the number of available hand-hygiene stations and optional masks.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

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