The B.C. Government has ordered all K-12 schools to suspend in class operations until further notice due to the evolving COVID-19.

The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re used to schools being safe places where kids learn, grow, and socialize but as the global pandemic COVID-19 is evolving quickly and is having a growing impact in British Columbia we have to take action today to protect our students and staff and keep our schools safe,” said Education Minister Rob Fleming.

The well thought out actions Fleming said are supported by all of the education partners, teachers, and stakeholders in the system.

“Since COVID-19 was first discovered abroad the Ministry of Education has been in near-daily communication with public health officials in school communities to provide accurate and timely information from trusted sources,” he said. “We follow the direction daily of public health officials and scientists in making fact-based decisions when it comes to the B.C. school system and we continue to that.”

Under the direction of the provincial health officer, all schools will be directed to immediately suspend in-class instruction until further notice.

Fleming said more than 99 percent of students in most public school districts are already on spring break this week with the exception of Nechako-Lakes that starts tomorrow. A small number of independent schools are also not on break yet.

“We’ve urged schools and school districts to begin planning now to ensure a continuity of learning while in-class instruction is suspended in B.C. schools indefinitely,” Fleming said. “We also expect school districts and independent schools will have plans in place to maintain some level of service for children and people who are performing essential services on the frontline to combat COVID-19; people like teachers, medical health professionals, first responders, and pharmacists.”

Fleming said teachers will be prepared to plan for continuity of learning when their respective spring breaks were originally scheduled to end March 30.

“We will continue to work in consultation with our education partners as we plan how we will provide ongoing education services,” he said. “We’ll be in frequent contact with school districts and school authorities to ensure that we work through this challenge together and to look for best practices as plans are developed.”

Fleming added every student will receive a final mark and that all students who are on track to move onto the next grade in the fall will do so.

“For grades 10 and 11 students, graduation assessments will be postponed. I know that parents of students in grade 12 will have unique concerns,” he said. “Every student eligible for graduation grade 12 this year will graduate. The ministry is also working very closely with post-secondary institutions to ensure that graduating students transition successfully and smoothly next year.”

Recognizing vulnerable students in the education system who have unique needs, Fleming said there are important services like meal programs and child care services operating on school grounds that will need to be addressed.

“Schools are already considering these issues in their planning while we work together through these extraordinary times,” he said. “We know some school districts will face unique challenges and we’re prepared to meet those challenges together with our education partners.”

Calling it a fast situation as COVID-19 evolves, Fleming said we must work together to meet the needs of students and school communities, and encouraged parents and guardians to talk to their children about today’s announcement that is designed to best protect them and the people that are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Premier John Horgan said B.C. will be amending the employment standards act to protect workers and prevent layoffs in the event that someone has to stay at home to self-isolate in the interest of protecting their coworkers and their sector.

“We want to make sure that no one loses their job by doing the right thing and that will require amendments to our employment standards act,” Horgan said. “I’ve also made it abundantly clear to the federal government that when they’re looking at the employment insurance act they need to make sure that they’re not shortchanging people in this crisis.”

Finance Minister Carole James said as the situation is constantly evolving, our response to support business, people, and the economy is going to have to evolve with it.

“British Columbia has a strong economic foundation but there is no question that COVID-19 will have global impacts and of course British Columbians will have impacts,” James said. “Our economy in BC will be impacted.”

James said there are three streams that the province is working on and is committed to as part of its economic strategy. They include making sure there are enough services and supports in place to protect the health and safety of British Columbians, working with the federal government to bring in immediate relief for people and business, and building B.C’s plan for economic recovery and collaboration with the business community.