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

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Cases have gone up in Northern Health in the past week, as they have all over B.C. (K-J Millar/Black Press Media)
Northern Health reports new highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day

Nineteen cases were reported to Public Health last Tuesday (Nov. 17)

FILE – British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wears a face mask as she views the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Masks now mandatory in all public indoor and retail spaces in B.C.

Many retailers and businesses had voiced their frustration with a lack of mask mandate before

(Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared Thursday.
COVID-19 outbreak at LNG Canada Project site

14 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at this time

A man has been arrested after a Nov. 11 break and enter at the Sandspit Airport, Queen Charlotte RCMP said in a media release on. Nov 17. (Black Press Media files)
Man arrested after Nov. 11 break and enter at local airport

Queen Charlotte RCMP investigate recent spate of break and enters

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

More than 70 anglers participated in the bar-fishing demonstration fishery on Sept. 9, 2020 on the Fraser River near Chilliwack. DFO officers ticketed six people and seized four rods. A court date is set for Dec. 1, 2020. (Jennifer Feinberg/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Anglers ticketed in Fraser River demonstration fishery heading to court

Sportfishing groups started a GoFundMe with almost $20K so far for legal defence of six anglers

Most Read