B.C. parents will have the option of sending their children back to school, at least in part, come June 1, according to Premier John Horgan and Education Minister Rob Fleming’s announcement on Friday, May 15 about the role education would play in the BC Restart Plan, and the Cowichan Valley school district will be ready.
“Our district has been working hard on transition-planning for just such an eventuality,” said School District 79 board chair Candace Spilsbury on Friday. “The Board recently started an ad hoc committee to focus on that work specifically and will be looking closely at this announcement to see what that means for our schools and community. We have teams of staff who are working to localize these details and ensure we can continue to play our part in supporting our learners, families, staff, and community.”
It’s not going to happen overnight. Spilsbury said the plan would be laid out in detail over the coming weeks, starting with a survey early next week that’ll be used to help the district plan the path ahead “in great detail and ensure we are making decisions that will provide the best outcome for our community.”
In their announcement, Horgan and Fleming noted the return to classrooms this school year would be voluntary, and Spilsbury agreed there will be mixed feelings about the situation for many.
“We realize that this provincial announcement may affect our learners, families and staff in a variety of ways. Many will be happy to be getting back to a familiar routine, but some may feel anxious or scared,” she said. “Each of these emotions or feelings is natural and we recognize that there will be a large diversity of comfort around this return to school. Our dedicated staff are prepared to support our returning learners in whatever way we can as our ‘new normal’ rolls back into our schools.”
Spilsbury said despite the changes, support for children of essential workers will remain available, the Food For Kids program will continue and there’ll be a “continuity of learning for those who cannot or choose not to, return to school at this time.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it a hard time for all around the world, in Canada, and within the province, but being on Vancouver Island has been fortunate, Spilsbury noted.
“Although the effects of COVID-19 will be felt in many areas of our lives for a long time, we know that we are extremely safe in our local context and it is safe for us to reopen our schools to our learners. There are only six active COVID-19 cases in all of Island Health as of Thursday, May 14. With a service population of near 800,000 in Island Health, this is welcome news,” she said. “Under the direction of Dr. Bonnie Henry, WorkSafeBC, and the Ministries of Health and Education, we are confident that applicable safety procedures are in place and, when followed by staff and students, will provide the protection we all need to ensure everyone’s safety.”
Above all else, the SD79 community is in it together, Spilsbury said.
“We have been in this together as a community from the start and we are committed to ensuring all of our learners, families, staff and community get what they need to thrive during this time of change and uncertainty.”