(Files by Catherine Garrett-MyPGNow)

Enhanced safety measures and additional resources will enable most students in grades K-12 to return to school on Sept. 8, with full-time in-class learning as the province moves to Stage 2 of B.C.’s Education Restart Plan.

“The classroom is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development, and that’s why we are working hard to ensure students can safely spend the next school year with their teachers and classmates,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Education.

“We were the only jurisdiction in Canada that brought students back into the classroom provincewide before the end of the school year and this has given us valuable information that we are using to develop our plans, ensuring health and safety at schools remain paramount.”

Students will be organized into learning groups of staff and students, reducing the number of contacts, transmission risk, and faster contact tracing.

Elementary and Middle schools will have cohorts limited to a maximum of 60 students, and secondary school cohorts will be limited to 120 people.

School authorities will be required to implement health and safety measures consistent with new guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control.

“We know how important it is for children to be back in school – to both support their emotional and mental health and their ability to socialize and to learn,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“Being back in school is also crucial to support many parents in being able to work, but we must do it safely. We ask for families and workplaces to continue to be flexible as we come into the fall. We’ve put a lot of thoughtful work and consideration into reopening schools this fall and in making sure we’re supporting children in ways that keep them, the people who teach them and our communities safe.”

The BC Government is setting aside $45.6 million to ensure increased cleaning, hand hygiene stations, and the availability of masks.

Masks will not be mandatory for the most part, but they will be recommended or required in specific situations. They will also be available upon request.

Staff and students must also assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19.

If a student or staff member has symptoms, arrangements will be made for that individual to return home.

The ministry is developing operational guidelines that will further assist school districts and independent schools with their planning for September.

An education steering committee including teachers, parents, Indigenous rightsholders, support staff, principals and vice-principals, school trustees and the public health sector has also been established to identify best practices and find solutions to potential issues.

School sports have also been ruled out by officials.

“There will be no tournaments, no assemblies, no big gatherings,” said Dr. Henry.

Families will hear from their school district or independent school throughout the summer with updated health and safety guidelines for elementary, middle and secondary schools, as well as learning groups, schedules, enrolment and registration information with the final details being submitted to the ministry and posted online by the districts on Aug. 26.