B.C.'s Back to School Plan

Students returned to in-class learning September 2020. B.C.’s plan includes new health and safety measures, increased funding for protective equipment like masks and new learning groups to help keep everyone safe.

Last updated: December 22, 2020 

Our plan

B.C.'s Back to School Plan is built on three core principles to keep everyone safe. 

1. New health and safety measures

2. Increased funding to keep schools safe and clean

3. Learning groups to help reduce transmission

Health and safety measures

Special safety measures help create safe schools and reduce the spread of COVID-19. These extra layers of protection measures work well in schools because they're controlled environments that have:

  • Consistent groups of people
  • Robust illness policies for students and staff
  • The ability to have people follow effective personal practices like hand washing

Health guidelines

Every student and staff member will be given two masks when they return to school in September.

Under the updated health and safety guidelines, masks are required for all staff in all K-12 schools and all students in middle and secondary school when they are in high traffic areas like school buses and hallways, and anytime they are outside of their classroom or learning group and they cannot safely distance from others.

  • Students will have the choice to wear a mask in the classroom
  • Staff will have the choice to wear a mask when interacting within their learning group
  • Everyone must treat each other and those wearing masks with respect

Exceptions will be made for students and staff who cannot wear masks for medical or disability related reasons. 

Elementary school students are not required to wear masks. 

Even when wearing a mask, staff and students will still be required to maintain physical distance from people outside of their learning group where possible.

If a student or staff member develops symptoms while at school, they must wear a mask while they are preparing to go home. Review COVID-19 mask use information from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).

Reducing the number of close, in-person interactions helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Keep a safe distance from others. The BCCDC recommends at least two metres

People in the same learning group don't need to stay two metres apart but they must limit physical contact. Classrooms will be set up to promote spacing between students where possible.

  • Outside of a learning group, including extracurricular activities, middle and secondary students and all K-12 staff must keep a healthy distance, 

Physical Distancing Strategies

  • Add barriers in locations where physical distance cannot be maintained and people interact with a high number of individuals (like at a front reception desk or in a cafeteria or library)
  • Spread students and staff out to different areas when possible
  • Stagger break and transition times
  • Incorporate individual activities
  • Remind students to keep their hands to themselves
  • Buses should be cleaned and disinfected in accordance with BCCDC guidelines
  • Buses should be loaded from back to front and offloaded from front to back
  • Keep seating consistent and assign seats where possible. If space is available, each student should have their own seat unless sharing with a member of their household
  • Middle and secondary school students are required to wear non-medical masks. Exceptions will be made for students and staff who cannot wear masks for medical or disability related reasons
  • Masks aren't recommended for elementary students on buses because they are more likely to touch their face and may need help putting them on and taking them off
  • Schools and school districts can consider a transparent barrier to separate the driver from the students
  • Schools and school districts should keep up to date passenger lists to share with public health if contact tracing needs to occur
  • Students should clean their hands before they leave home, when they leave school, and when they get home

In elementary schools, adapt group activities to limit physical contact and reduce shared items.

  • Limit use of frequently-touched items that can't be easily cleaned
  • Clean and disinfect laminated materials daily if multiple people touch them

Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces at least twice every 24 hours, including:

  • Door knobs
  • Water fountains
  • Light switches
  • Toilet handles
  • Tables, desks and chairs used by multiple students
  • Keyboards
  • Toys

Avoid sharing all food and drinks, including homemade foods like birthday treats or bake sale items.

Students should label all their personal items and not share them.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted on textbooks, paper, or other paper-based products.

  • Schools can share books or paper-based educational resources with students

Practicing hand hygiene

Rigorous hand washing is the most effective way to reduce the spread of illness.

  • Wash hands with plain soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • You don't need antibacterial soap for COVID-19
  • The temperature of the water doesn't matter, though most find warm water to be the most comfortable
  • Have regular opportunities for staff and students to practice hand hygiene
  • Help younger students with hand hygiene as needed

If there isn't a sink (like when students and staff are outdoors), use portable hand-washing sites or alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol.

If hands are visibly dirty, soap and water are best. If they're not available, use an alcohol-based hand wipe followed by alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol.

Review information on hand hygiene in a school setting from the BCCDC.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least twice every 24 hours (once during the school day).

This is in addition to a general school cleaning, which should happen at least once a day.

Cleaning Strategies

  • Clean and disinfect any surface that is visibly dirty
  • Use common cleaning and disinfectant products
  • Limit frequently-touched items that aren't easy to clean
  • Empty garbage containers daily
  • Clean and disinfect laminated materials daily if multiple people touch them

Add barriers when people can't keep a healthy distance (two metres) and when people interact with a high number of individuals (like at a front reception desk or in a cafeteria).

Use floor markings and posters to show traffic flow throughout the school.

  • This may include one-way hallways and designated entrance and exit doors

Schools must keep the same number of exits and ensure they adhere to the fire code.


Increased funding

Provincial funding

An additional $45.6 million will help schools implement new health and safety measures.

The investment includes: 

  • $23 million for more staff and staff time for cleaning schools
  • $9.2 million for hand hygiene
  • $5.1 million for cleaning supplies
  • $2.2 million for reusable face masks for students and staff
  • $3 million to support remote learning, including:
    • Technology loans
    • Software to support students with disabilities or complex needs
  • $3.1 million to independent schools

Federal funding

In addition to the Province’s $45.6-million investment to support a safe restart for B.C.’s schools, the federal government is providing up to $242.4 million in one-time funding for the 2020/21 school year. The funds will be received in two equal payments, $121.2 million in September 2020 and up to $121.2 million in January 2021.

September's payment allocation:

  • $101.1 million to school districts
  • $8.0 million to independent schools
  • $12.1 million held in reserve for COVID-19 related issues that emerge between September and December 2020

School districts and independent schools can spend the funding in the following areas, based on local needs.

Learning resources and supports

  • Implementation of online and remote learning options
  • Hiring additional teachers and staff
  • Staff training
  • On-call teacher and staff costs
  • Mental health supports for students and staff

Health and safety

  • Increasing staff and covering salary costs for additional cleaning hours needed to meet health and safety guidelines in schools
  • Improving air systems in schools, such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning 
  • Improving or installing portable air scrubbers
  • Covering increased utility costs needed to run air systems
  • Increasing hand hygiene, including additional handwashing and hand sanitizing stations, installing touchless faucets or additional supplies
  • Installing plexiglass and other barriers
  • Providing outdoor learning spaces
  • Adapting classrooms and school buses to minimize physical contact
  • Purchasing additional cleaning supplies such as sprayers or fogger machines for frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces
  • Purchasing additional masks, face shields or other PPE as needed


  • Covering additional transportation costs to have fewer students on buses and/or to accommodate new school schedules and additional routes
  • Supporting alternative transportation strategies, like gas costs for parents who transport their children to school

Before-and-after school child care

  • Opening up more child care space
  • Hiring additional staff
  • Covering cleaning costs so child care groups can be smaller, ensuring students can remain within their learning groups

Learning groups

A learning group is a group of students and staff who remain together throughout the school quarter, semester or year and who primarily interact with each other. Learning groups were recommended by the Provincial Health Officer to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. 

For example, a learning group could be made up of:

  • A single class of students (20-30)
  • Multiple classes that sometimes join together for activities like physical education (PE) or music
  • A group of secondary school students with the same courses in the same quarter or semester

Learning groups can also include staff, like:

  • Teachers
  • Specialist support staff
  • Education Assistants (EAs)

Learning groups provide a range of benefits for students including more in-class learning time, increased peer interaction and support, and decreased feelings of isolation.

Why use learning groups?

Compared to other public settings, schools have a relatively consistent set of people accessing the building. Learning groups further reduce the number of interactions between students and staff.

  • Learning groups allow for more students to have more in-class learning time in a closer to normal learning environment. This leads to significant academic, social and emotional benefits and minimizes learning gaps, increases peer interaction and support and decreases feelings of isolation
  • Learning groups also help with contact tracing and limiting interruptions to learning if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in a learning group

Learning group sizes

Learning groups are smallest in elementary and middle schools because it is more challenging for younger students to maintain physical distance.

Students in secondary school are better able to minimize physical contact, practice hand hygiene and recognize if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

  • Elementary: 60
  • Middle: 60
  • Secondary: 120

The PHO order on mass gatherings does not apply to schools, as events are defined in the order as an irregular gathering, like a party or celebration.

Learning group examples

The following examples are for illustrative purposes only. Actual configurations of learning groups will be designed by school districts and independent schools to meet local needs and other considerations in alignment with health and safety measures to protect students and school staff.

Elementary schools will still be organized into classrooms as students’ primary learning environment and have the option to create learning groups of up to 60 students and staff who can interact more regularly.

Example, Grade 2/3

Your child is in grade 2 and is part of a grade 2/3 learning group made up of two classes.

All curriculum instruction for your child is provided by your child’s classroom teacher with the potential that the teacher of the grade 3 class may switch with your child’s teacher to provide some instruction in areas where they have particular skills and interests.

The two classrooms will be located close to each other and students will share recess and lunch times and may participate in outdoor learning activities together as part of the learning group.

Example, Grade 4

Your child is in grade 4 and is part of a grade 4 learning group made up of two classes. 

All curriculum instruction for your child is provided by your child’s classroom teacher with the potential that the teacher of the other grade 4 class may switch with your child’s teacher to provide some instruction in areas where they have particular skills and interests.

The two classrooms will be located close to each other and students will share recess and lunch times and may participate in outdoor learning activities together as part of the learning group.

Middle schools that follow an elementary school model (one classroom with one teacher) will be organized like elementary schools.

Middle schools that follow a junior high model (students move between classes and take a range of subjects taught by different teachers) will be re-organized to limit students to learning groups of no more than 60 students and staff.

Elementary School Model

Your child is assigned to a grade 7/8 learning group which is made up of a grade 7 classroom and a grade 8 classroom.  

Your child is in the grade 8 class, with 23 students. All core curriculum instruction for your child is provided in that classroom. 

The grade 7 classroom is in an adjacent room and is part of the overall grade 7/8 learning group.  

Together, those two classes have opportunities to collaborate on projects, use common areas like the gym or library, take breaks and go outside together.

Junior High Model

At the beginning of the school year, your child selects the classes they want to take from different teachers. 

These selections may have been done last spring. They will be confirmed or adjusted based on current staffing and other circumstances. 

Once course selections are finalized, students are assigned a learning group based on their grade level and the classes they selected. 

They will remain with that learning group for their elective program choices as well as their core curriculum.

Secondary school students will continue to be organized in courses. School timetables will be organized to limit students to learning groups of no more than 120 students and staff.

Schools will analyze student enrolment and course selection to identify "natural learning groups," students who are taking the same core subjects and electives. 

Secondary schools will be able to re-organize learning groups after each quarter or semester.


To accommodate as many students as safely as possible and as much choice as possible, your child's school introduces a quarter system, where students take two classes over a 10 week period (one term).

Your child is in grade 11 and is assigned to a grade 11 learning group. In the first quarter of the year, they complete Math 11 and English 11. 

The next quarter, they are assigned to a new learning group and complete Biology 11 and Drama 11.

This process continues for the entire school year with new learning groups being formed every 10-week term based on student course requirements and elective choices.

COVID-19 science and children

According to current worldwide data, COVID-19 has a very low infection rate in people 19 years old and under, and especially low in children under the age of 10.

In B.C., less than 1% of children tested have been COVID-19 positive, and even fewer are suspected to have been infected based on serological testing. Most children are not at a high risk for COVID-19 infection. Studies show that most COVID-19 cases in children originate from symptomatic adult family members, not from peers. Even in family bubbles, adults appear to be the primary spreaders of the virus.

Children who do test positive for COVID-19 usually have milder symptoms, such as a low-grade fever, dry cough, and gastrointestinal issues.

What has B.C. learned from the reopening of schools in other places?

Due to widespread, worldwide school closures, there are few studies on the effects of COVID-19 transmission in school settings.

In places that have resumed in-class instruction, children do not appear to be the primary spreaders of COVID-19. 

In schools where there were confirmed cases, there was typically minimal spreading beyond the initial case. 

Studies have shown that closing schools and child care facilities has significant negative mental health and socioeconomic impacts on vulnerable children.

COVID-19 protocols

Stay home when sick

The BCCDC guidelines for schools are firm. If a student, staff member or any other adult has any symptoms of a cold, influenza, COVID-19, or any other infectious respiratory disease, they must not enter the school.

Students, staff members and any other adult must stay home and self-quarantine if they have: 

  • Symptoms of COVID-19
  • Travelled outside Canada in the last 14 days
  • Identified as a close contact of a confirmed case or outbreak

This includes the children of essential service workers.

Daily health checks

Parent and caregiver responsibilities

Daily health checks start at home. Ask these questions:
  • Does your child have the symptoms of a common cold, influenza, COVID-19, or other infectious respiratory disease?
  • Has your child been outside Canada in the last 14 days?
  • Has your child been identified as a close contact of a confirmed case or outbreak?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you must keep your child at home, self-isolate, and seek care from a health-care provider.

School administration responsibilities

Ensure staff and other adults know they are responsible for assessing themselves daily for symptoms prior to entering the school.

Clearly communicate with parents and caregivers that they are responsible for assessing their children daily before sending them to school.

Testing students before a return to school

At this time, it is recommended that only people with symptoms or people otherwise identified by a health professional should be tested for COVID-19. This includes children.

Testing can also result in false positive and false negatives for the following groups:

  • Asymptomatic people
  • Those who are very early on in the illness
  • Those who may be incubating the disease

What if someone in my household or bubble is sick?

  • Students or staff may still attend school if a member of their household has symptoms of illness, provided the student/staff is not sick
  • It is expected the symptomatic household member is seeking assessment by a health-care provider

What if my child has allergies?

  • Students and staff who experience seasonal allergies, or other COVID-19-like symptom that are related to an existing condition, can continue to attend school when they are experiencing these symptoms as normal
  • If you notice a sudden change in the severity or type of symptoms your child normally experiences, keep your child at home and seek assessment from a health care provider

Students and staff who become sick at school

If a student or staff member develops symptoms at school, protocols are in place.

  • If a student or staff member develops symptoms at school, they will be given a non-medical mask and will be separated from their classmates or colleagues. Children will be supervised and cared for, if separated
  • The student's parent or guardian will be contacted to discuss next steps, with a request to have their child picked up as soon as possible. Staff will be asked to go home as soon as possible
  • Custodial staff will clean and disinfect the areas the person used
  • The student or staff will be assessed by a health care provider
  • The student or staff cannot return to school until COVID-19 has been excluded and symptoms have improved

Schools will contact public health if absenteeism is more that 10% of regular attendance, to help with the early identification of clusters or outbreaks. 

Confirmed case of COVID-19 in a learning group or at a school

If a student or staff member is confirmed to have COVID-19, and were potentially infectious while they were at school:

  • Public health will perform an investigation to determine if there were any potential close contacts within the school
    • Learning groups and staff who have interacted with the learning group may be asked to stay home while public health completes their investigation

If it is determined that there are close contacts within the school, public health will:

  • Notify the school administrators and request class and bus lists to assist with contact tracing
  • Provide guidance on what steps should be taken

Public health may then:

  • Recommend 14-day quarantine if necessary (for confirmed close contacts)
  • Recommend monitoring for symptoms if necessary
  • Provide follow-up recommendations if necessary
  • Schools will provide learning support to students required to self-quarantine
  • Together, schools and public health officials will determine if any other actions are necessary

You will be notified by public health if your child has been in contact with a COVID-positive person. If that happens, your child is required to self-quarantine.

School exposures

If there is a confirmed COVID-19 case in a school, public health contacts affected school community members directly. Regional health authorities also post school notifications on their websites, providing the date and type of notification (outbreak, cluster or exposure) for impacted schools. 

Education requirements

In-class instruction

There is no substitute for in-class instruction. It provides students with face-to-face teacher-led learning, peer engagement, supports social and emotional development and decreases feelings of isolation. 

School also provides many students access to programs and services they can't get at home and is integral to their overall health. 

School districts contacted all families in their school community to share their safety plan and confirmed if they planned to have their child attend classes in September or required an other option.

The Ministry has also gave school districts the flexibility to find options that work for families. This includes remote options for students within their districts, as well as the tools school districts need to increase their existing programs to meet demand.

Other options

Every September, parents have options for their child's education.

Parents should talk to their school district as soon as possible about their options.

Online and distributed learning

Both public and independent distributed learning schools offer distributed/online classes. Students in kindergarten to grade 7 must take a full course load at one school, while students in grades 8 to 12 may enrol in courses in a number of different distributed learning schools at one time.

There are 46 school districts with 53 public schools offering distributed learning courses and programs. Independent distributed learning schools also offer courses and programs.

Discover distributed learning


Homeschooling is typically led by a family member who delivers an educational program to a child at home.

Note: Homeschoolers are not eligible to receive a British Columbia Dogwood Graduation Certificate.

Discover homeschooling

Homebound education

Homebound education services allows students to continue their education program if they are absent from class during the school year because of injury, illness, surgery, pregnancy or mental health reasons. 

To access homebound education services, parents and caregivers must contact their school. 

Supporting additional needs

Students with complex medical conditions 

Parents of students who are immune-compromised or have underlying medical conditions are encouraged to consult with their health care provider to determine their level of risk regarding return to school.

If a medical professional determines that a student cannot attend school due to their health risks, the school district will work with the family to review alternative learning options for the student.

  • Students who need to stay at home because they are immune-compromised will have an at-home learning plan and will be provided with an educational program by their school district
  • This may include providing assistive technologies to help students learn remotely

Review COVID-19 and children with immune suppression information from the BCCDC.

Students with disabilities, diverse abilities

Students with disabilities, diverse abilities or those who require additional supports will have access to and receive the same supports and services they had prior to the pandemic.

  • The way supports are provided may look different, but all students will have access to a learning environment and the opportunity to have their learning needs assessed

Students who require additional supports will be identified through a needs assessment. School districts and independent school authorities will then develop continuity of learning plans for those students to ensure equity of access to learning.

  • Continuity of learning plans will align with the goals identified in a student's Individual Education Plan (IEP)
  • They will be developed in consultation with parents/caregivers and the specialists who typically support the student, like education assistants (EAs), non-enrolling teachers, speech language pathologists and occupational therapists

International students

We continue to support international students coming to B.C. to study.

All students who have travelled outside of Canada are required to self-quarantine for 14 days under federal orders. This includes students who are attending school from abroad.

Indigenous students

The Ministry fully respects the jurisdiction of First Nations and their right to make their own decisions on re-opening First Nations schools. Visit the First Nations Schools Association website for the latest updates.

For public schools, alternative methods of instructional delivery will be jointly determined by boards of education and First Nations for students from First Nations that remain closed and will not be sending students back to school at this time.

School districts and independent school authorities will engage with First Nations and Indigenous peoples as a part of their planning process for supports for Indigenous students. 

  • School boards and independent school authorities must also work with Métis Nation British Columbia for plans for Métis students attending public or independent schools
  • Boards must identify Indigenous students whose educational outcomes may have been negatively impacted during in-class suspension, with support planned and prioritized

In the classroom

Instruction and supports 

  • A focus on mental health and well-being supports for students returning to school. School boards and independent authorities will regularly monitor and assess how changes to the delivery of education are impacting the mental and emotional wellbeing of students and staff
  • Full-time instruction for students with disabilities/diverse abilities and students requiring additional support
  • Options for students with underlying complex medical needs
  • Alternative methods of delivery, jointly determined by boards of education and First Nations, for students from First Nations that remain closed and did not send students back in September

Curriculum, assessment and report cards

The return to full in-class instruction will include the following:

School boards and independent authorities must ensure activities, assignments and assessments are accessible to all students and families, as appropriate for any in-class, remote or blended (hybrid) learning.

School districts must also meet the requirements of British Columbia’s Student Reporting Policy. The policy provides significant flexibility for schools and school districts on the content and format of report cards.

Grad program

When in-class instruction is being supplemented with self-directed or remote learning, the focus will remain on ensuring students are making progress towards completing their graduation requirements.

Inclusive education

Students who require more support in school will have full-time, in-class instruction available without any delays.

  • Education assistants will continue to support students and teachers, both during in-class instruction and remote or online learning
  • Children and youth in care will have priority access to technology, child care, in-class instruction and additional supports

Outside the classroom

Recess, lunch and break times 

Students will remain in their learning group during recess, lunch and break times. 

Students can socialize with a friend in a different learning group if they follow these rules.

Elementary schools

  • Outdoors, minimizing physical contact
  • Indoors, maintain physical distance

Middle and secondary schools

  • Consistently maintain physical distance in all environments

Sports, clubs and extracurricular activities

Extracurricular activities including sports, arts and special interest clubs can only occur if: 

  • Physical distance can be maintained between members of different learning groups
  • Reduced physical contact is practiced by those within the same learning group

Assemblies, concerts and gatherings

Small gatherings can only occur within a learning group.

  • A gathering can include the full learning group (60 or 120) and the minimum number of people needed to meet the gathering's purpose
  • For example, a parent-teacher conference would require one parent per student and a teacher

Assemblies, concerts and other large gatherings like a guest speaker should happen virtually. 

Tournaments, competitions and festivals

All inter-school events including competitions, tournaments and festivals should not occur at this time.

Work placements and apprenticeships

School districts and independent school authorities will assess and determine if it is safe for students to remain on work placements and apprenticeships.

  • For work placements that cannot continue in person, districts and schools will determine if alternate methods to continue learning or accumulate volunteer hours for work placements are possible
  • Students are encouraged to talk to their teachers about work placements and apprenticeships

School meal programs

School districts with existing meal programs will continue to work with community partners to provide meal support to families in need, in alignment with current public health guidelines.

School district back to school plans


All 60 B.C. public school districts have posted back to school health and safety plans. Parents are encouraged to read their district's plan and learn about the health and safety measures in place at their school this year. 


Five stages framework

The Five Stage Framework outlines expectations for B.C. elementary, middle and secondary schools for learning during COVID-19

Info for school districts

School districts and independent school associations are required to submit a Restart Plan before the 2020/21 school year begins

Good news in education

Education communities have creative and compassionate ways of supporting students during the pandemic