Voluntary part-time return to schools in B.C. on June 1, says premier

A cleaner helps clean a classroom at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

About half of all Kelowna-area students are expected to return to class on June 1, school board chair Moyra Baxter says.

The parents of a total of 6,100 elementary school students, 2,300 middle school students, and 2,400 students have indicated their children or teens will be back in class.

"Right now, it's looking like 47 per cent of students will be coming back to school," Baxter said on Victoria Day.

"I had a feeling it might be about 50-50, and that's what it has turned out to be," Baxter said. "It's a manageable number, given the conditions that are going to be in place."

Parents were asked to indicate, via an online survey by last Friday afternoon, whether their children and teens would be returning to school. Although the deadline for the survey has passed, Baxter said it will still be possible for parents to say their kids are coming back to school.

"I would expect principals will contact parents directly soon to get an update on the numbers," Baxter said.

"Of course, some parents could change their mind if the COVID-19 situation changes, and we were to get a few more outbreaks," Baxter said. "And some parents might just not have responded by Friday because they wanted to see how things go in the next week or so."

"It's better for us to reach out to parents to confirm the numbers, because we want to be as prepared as we can be for June 1," Baxter said.

Under the government's plan to re-start schools, elementary school children will attend classes two days a week - either Monday and Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday, with schools closed Wednesday. Middle and high school students will be back in class for only one day a week, with all classes ending as usual at the end of June.

Students will have to sit further apart from one another, everyone entering the schools will have to wash their hands, and recesses will be staggered to limit the number of students sharing space together.

"It looks like we have somewhat more elementary school students coming back, on a percentage basis, than we do middle and high school students," Baxter said. "That may be because the younger children will be in class twice a week, whereas for the older students this will really amount to just four days of class for the whole month."

About 330 students have been attending classes since April. These are the children and teenagers of parents who are essential service workers, with jobs such as doctors, nurses, other health care workers, police, and firefighters.

"We are following all the directives we've been given by health officials and WorkSafeBC," Baxter said. "Our schools are safe places, but I can understand how some parents might still be worried."

- This story corrects an earlier version that misidentified Baxter as school board superintendent.