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

White Rock and Surrey RCMP – along with police forces across the province – have launched their holiday CounterAttack campaigns. (Contributed graphic)
White Rock, Surrey RCMP CounterAttack campaigns underway

Enforcement ramps up to remove impaired drivers from cities’ roadways

Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judge finds Surrey RCMP breached two robbery suspects’ Charter rights

This was in connection with the robbery of the Ritecare Pharmacy in Surrey on Oct. 10, 2017

Representatives from the Delta Firefighters’ Charitable Society and local retailers present cheques for $5,000 to Priscilla Belonio from WINGS - Azure Place and Wayne Connorton from the South Delta Starfish Pack program, proceeds from the society’s “We’re in this Together” t-shirt campaign. (Dave Mason/contributed photo)
Delta firefighters t-shirt campaign raises over $11,000

Funds donated to Azure Place transition house, South Delta Starfish Pack program

Art rendering of Surrey’s Legion Veterans Village. (Submitted photo)
Surrey’s Legion Veteran Village to get 91 affordable housing units, B.C. government says

Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby made the announcement Wednesday

This year’s White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive was the best yet, organizers say. (Contributed photo)
White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive ‘best ever’

Month-long annual event wrapped up Dec. 1

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Suspect tries to thwart police in Abbotsford with false 911 call about men with guns

Man twice sped away from officers and then tried to throw them off his trail

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read