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

Extra paramedics are in Terrace to deal with COVID-19 patients. (File photo)
Extra paramedics sent to Terrace

Area is experiencing high number of COVID cases

Security has been stepped up at both Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, pictured here, and at Kitimat General Hospital in Kitimat. (File photo)
Stillbirth reaction leads to more hospital security

Staff, physicians facing threats and harassment

The Majagaleehl Gali Aks Elementary School in Hazelton is being shut down for a week by the Gitanmaax Band Council following a confirmation of a COVID-19 exposure there on Feb. 26. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Hazelton school COVID-19 closure extended one week

With spring break on horizon, Majagaleehl Gali Aks Elementary will be closed to end of March

There were 31 new COVID-19 cases in the Terrace local health area during the week of Feb. 21 to Feb. 27, 2021. (BC Centre for Disease Control)
Northwest B.C. remains a COVID-19 hot spot

There were 31 new cases reported in the Terrace local health area between Feb. 21 and Feb. 27

Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president and Grand Chief Stweart Phillip speaking at a rally with chiefs from around B.C. outside of the Coastal GasLink pipeline route in 2019. The UBCIC said in an open letter to Terrace city council that it was “heartbroken” to hear about the situation. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs ‘heartbroken’ by McCallum-Miller resignation

Terrace’s first Indigenous councillor resigned Feb. 22, alleging systemic racism

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Under B.C.’s Public Health Act, Jacqueline Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
B.C. dentists and bus drivers want newly-approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

BC Dental Association says dentists and their teams cannot treat patients remotely

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

President of the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) Teri Mooring is calling for teachers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by summer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Why it’s ‘urgent’ B.C. teachers get vaccinated from COVID-19 before summer

President Teri Mooring says not enough is being done to prevent virus transmission in schools

FILE - In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas from the J pod swim in Puget Sound west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whales. A new study from federal researchers provides the most detailed look yet at what the Pacific Northwest's endangered orcas eat. Scientists with the NOAA Fisheries Northwest Fisheries Science Center spent years collecting fecal samples from the whales as well as scales from the fish they devoured. They say their data reaffirm the central importance of Chinook salmon to the whales. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Study reinforces importance of Chinook to Pacific Northwest orcas

Data confirms how central the big salmon are to the orca’s diet year-round

Shiromali Krishnaraj arrives from India and receives a mandatory COVID-19 test at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. B.C.’s approved rapid tests also use a nasal swab, with a machine to scan for COVID-19 antibodies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s rapid COVID-19 tests have produced only two positive results

Tests deployed for exposures in schools, outbreaks in care homes, jails

BC Emergency Health Services confirmed that a call was received just before 10 a.m. Ground paramedics, as well as an air ambulance, are on the way to the area. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
UPDATED: 2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Most Read