Back to school is top of mind with almost everyone I have spoken to in the past few weeks. Almost every parent I hear from wants the new normal this fall to include a safe return to the classroom for kids. They are citing two main reasons to get schools up and running with all the protocols needed in place to keep students, teachers, and families safe.
First and foremost, it’s about making sure students are in a structured learning environment. Parents have done incredible work through the pandemic to ensure learning continues. But it’s a mere replacement for the classroom. This generation is already behind due to COVID-19, and more time without formal and structured instruction will cost them in the long run.
Second, a safe return to the classroom is key to getting to the new normal for parents and communities. Families found their way through the COVID-19 crisis in the spring by bringing a lot of flexibility to the challenges. They adjusted schedules. With many businesses shut down, they could be home with their kids. But many people are back on the job and a lot of that flexibility is gone. Not to mention there are a great many families who can’t afford to not work.
We can accomplish both of goals – open schools and an open economy – if the right plan is in place. What parents, students, and educators are craving is concrete information – details on how the school day will work, details on masks and other safety protocols for students and teachers, and details on access to distance learning for those youths who cannot return to the class for now.
Sadly, none of this has been delivered by the province. Parents have no idea of how classrooms will look. There's little time to prepare. It's been left to School Districts who are working out detailed plans. The government even made it worse this week by delaying the return to school until at least the week of Sept. 8 - with no concrete date set for parents. (Editor's note - As of press time, it appears September 10 is the current start date.) In Peace River South district its best to keep an eye on the district website at www.sd59.bc.ca for and exact date when it is known.
While parents have the option to look at distance learning, most programs are already full and remain unconnected to local schools, not to mention, that this Government just finished cutting funding to this program at the same time it is needed more than ever. The provincial government has done nothing, and parents and students are left with a hodgepodge that risks leaving students behind. They deserve a better plan and better, concrete options well before now. They have been let down.
As a former Minister of Education, I have met impressive young people in schools all over the Province. I know that when they head back into classrooms, we can count on them to do the right thing, whatever is worked out.
Parents can have a conversation about all the things they can do at school to keep safe and healthy – maintain social distance, wash hands, wear a mask, don’t share food or drinks. Our K-12 students can help teach a lesson to everyone on how to live in this new normal.
If you have any ideas or questions, please contact me through my office at mike.bernier.MLA@leg.bc.ca, through my Facebook page at MikeBernierBC, at (250) 782-3430, or 1 (855) 582-3430.