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

A Canada goose honks at other birds at Salish Park on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Goose addling program underway in Vernon

2021 cull applications in process as addling program enters 15th year

The Vernon Pickleball Association spotlights member Don Friesen ahead of National Volunteer Week (April 18-24, 2021). (Wayne Emde photo)
Volunteer praised by Vernon pickleballers

Marshall Field pickleball complex wouldn’t be possible without dedicated volunteer hours: VPA

Shaun Wiebe sorts out some pills at Wiebe’s Pharmacy on 35th Street which opened in April 2015. Wiebe was charged Jan. 22, 2021, with manslaughter in the case of the death of a Vernon woman in March 2018. (Morning Star - file photo)
Bail decision moved for Vernon pharmacist charged with manslaughter

Shaun Ross Wiebe was charged with manslaughter in the 2018 death of Heather Barker

Vernon Secondary School students walked in Friday, April 16, 2021, to a lawn full of plastic cutlery in a grad prank. (Debra Ann Large - Vernon & Area Community Forum)
Plastic cutlery aerates Vernon high school’s lawn in grad prank

Grad pranksters get an early start this year with unusual plastic prank

(Photo: pixabay.com)
Morning Start: More human twins are being born now than ever before

Your morning start for Friday, April 16, 2021

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

RCMP cruiser, no date.
Threats against RCMP lead to high-risk situation in Ashcroft

Distraught man made threats directed at police, potentially had access to firearms

Photo by Metro Creative Connection
New campgrounds coming to B.C. parks as part of $82M provincial boost

This season alone, 185 campsites are being added to provincial parks, says Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Nevaya
COVID advice from Coldstream kids

Elementary students share their wisdom to adults in these unprecedented times

The Columbia Valley Wetlands are known for their extensive and fragile ecosystem. (File photo)
Wildsight speaks out against logging in Columbia Wetlands

Located 50 kms south of Golden, the proposed operation was justified as bark beetle management

Paper Excellence took over Catalyst Paper operations in B.C. in 2018. (Paper Excellence photo)
Eight-year-old Piper and her family were raising money to help Guinevere, the bearded dragon, get a gynecological surgery. Sadly, the reptile didn’t survive the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Lizard fails to survive surgery, GoFundMe dollars help Langley family offset medical bills

Guinevere, a pet bearded dragon, underwent an ovariectomy on Tuesday

John Gibson has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help care for his father Stephen McCrae-Gibson, who suffered a stroke in February and had to undergo surgery to remove a blood clot near his brain. (Contributed)
Long road ahead for Salmon Arm man recovering after stroke

Son launches GoFundMe campaign to help prepare for father’s return and rehabilitation

Most Read