Schools across B.C. will be shut down indefinitely, Premier John Horgan announced today.
The decision to halt in-class learning for all 550,000 Kindergarten to Grade 12 students came as the provincial government steps up its battle against the spread of COVID-19.
Education Minister Rob Fleming warned parents and students not to expect a quick return to classes.
“The suspension of in-class instruction could go on for some time,” he said.
“We’re used to schools being safe places where kids learn and grow and socialize, but... we have to take action today to protect our students and staff and keep our students safe,” said Fleming, urging parents to speak to their children about why the closures are happening. The government is working on a plan to maintain “some level” of in-school education for children of frontline health care workers to ensure they are available to deal with the expected surge in COVID-19 cases, he said.
Those arrangements would follow social distancing guidelines and “allow those frontline workers to continue serving British Columbians,” said Fleming.
All students on track to graduate or move to the next grade will do so, he said. The difficult decision to close schools was made with support from all school districts, teachers and stakeholders, he added.
Fleming said the education ministry is working with stakeholders on ways to implement online learning or other forms of distance education.
There are also currently no plans on how services for vulnerable students will continue during the suspension.
“We don’t have all the answers today,” he said.
Fleming said learning continuity plans for students will be made in consultation with teachers, parents and school boards, and could include registering students in courses through some of the 57 online learning providers in the province.
While 93 per cent of B.C. households have internet access, only an estimated 33 per cent of rural communities and 35 per cent of rural Indigenous communities have access at broadband speeds for work and education recommended by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
Almost all schools are on spring break right now, and the few that are not have been asked to immediately cease instruction.
Fleming said childcare operations in schools will continue, but parents should start planning for potential future suspensions of those services as well.
And Horgan said the province will continue to allow all licensed childcare centres to remain open “at this time.”
Horgan said he hopes the federal government will change the Employment Insurance program to ensure British Columbians who miss work to care for children or self-isolate are able to pay their bills.
B.C. joins Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan in closing schools to slow the spread of the pandemic. As of Monday, B.C. has 103 confirmed cases of the disease and has recorded four deaths.