How BC schools are building COVID safety into return to class

Keeping school kids safe

How will schools keep B.C. children safe this fall?

Parents around British Columbia are still waiting for full details about what the return to class will look like for their own children. The province has mandated that each school district’s back-to-school plans must be made publicly available by Aug. 26.

The province’s K-12 Education Restart Plan calls for the creation of “learning groups,” or cohorts, of up to 60 students and the elementary and middle school levels, and 120 at the high school level.

A cohort is a group of students and staff who remain together throughout a school term. Those groups are required to remain consistent for all the activities within schools, including lunch, recess, classroom changes and the like.

How that strategy will be put into place in local schools is part of the plan, under development now, that will be available Aug. 26.

In the meantime, the B.C. Ministry of Health and B.C. Centre for Disease Control have published public health guidance for K-12 schools that provides some insight into the kind of measures that will be put in place above and beyond the creation of the cohorts.

One of the questions on the minds of parents and teachers has revolved around the idea of physical distancing, and how the recommended two-metre distance between people could possibly be maintained in a school setting.

The answer? It doesn’t need to be.

“Within the cohort, minimized physical contact should be encouraged, but a two-metre physical distance does not need to be maintained,” the public health guidance document says.

It recommends a number of other strategies that should be implemented “wherever possible” in schools:

  • Avoid close greetings (e.g. hugs, handshakes).
  • Encourage students and staff to not touch their faces.
  • Spread out people as much as it is practical to do so, using different desk and table formations. For middle and secondary schools, consider arranging desks/tables so students are not facing each other and using consistent seating arrangements.
  • Consider strategies that prevent crowding at pickup and drop-off times.
  • Stagger recess/snack, lunch and class transition times to provide a greater amount of space for everyone.
  • Take students outside more often.
  • Organize learning activities outside.
  • Take activities that involve movement, including physical education, outdoors.
  • Playgrounds are safe; ensure appropriate hand hygiene practices before and after play.
  • Incorporate more individual activities or activities that encourage greater space between students and staff.
  • Manage flow of people in common areas, including hallways, to minimize crowding.
  • Minimize the number of non-staff adults entering the school (e.g. parents, caregivers, health-care providers, volunteers). Prioritize to those supporting activities that are of benefit to student learning and well-being (e.g. meal program volunteers, immunizers).
  • Extracurricular activities (sports, arts, special interest clubs) can occur if physical distance can be maintained between members of different cohorts and reduced physical contact is practised by those within the same cohort.
  • Inter-school events, including competitions, tournaments and festivals, should not occur. This will be re-evaluated in mid-fall 2020.

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