COVID-19 safe schools

For the 2021/2022 school year, students and staff are in the classroom full time with updated health and safety measures.

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Last updated: January 17, 2022

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Our plan for the 2021/2022 school year

All students and staff should:

Online and homeschooling programs remain available to students.


Communicable disease guidelines

Communicable disease guidelines have been updated for the January 2022 return to school based on public health knowledge about the Omicron variant:

Updated guidelines include input from the Ministry of Education, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), Indigenous rightsholders and education partners, including teachers, parents and school administrators.


Health and safety measures

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect everyone against COVID-19.

Safety measures are also in place to protect students and staff and reduce the spread of COVID-19. These include effective personal practices like wearing masks, daily health checks, staying home when sick and and regular hand washing. 


Masks

Wearing a well-fitting, 3-layer mask is important to protect yourself and others around you. Review BCCDC guidance on masks.

All K to 12 students, staff and visitors are required to wear masks in all indoor areas, including:

  • At desks
  • On school buses

Exceptions to the mask policy include:

  • A person who cannot tolerate wearing a mask for health or behavioural reasons
  • A person unable to put on or remove a mask without the assistance of another person
  • If the mask is removed temporarily for the purposes of identifying the person wearing it
  • If the mask is removed temporarily to engage in an educational activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask. For example:
    • Playing a wind instrument
    • Engaging in high-intensity physical activity
  • If a person is eating or drinking
  • If a person is behind a barrier
  • While providing a service to a person with a disability or diverse ability (for example, a hearing impairment), where visual cues, facial expressions and/or lip reading/movements are important

Daily health checks

All students and staff must complete a daily health check. A daily health check is assessing yourself or your child for symptoms of illness. If you are sick or feel unwell, stay at home.

Parents and caregivers are responsible for assessing their children daily before sending them to school.

School administrators will ensure staff and other adults know they are responsible for assessing themselves daily for symptoms prior to entering the school.


Keeping your distance

Schools must continue to create space between people:

  • Use all available space to spread people out
    • For example, use different common space, classroom and learning environment configurations
    • Avoid face-to-face seating arrangements where possible
  • Implement strategies to prevent crowding during class transition times, for example:
    • Manage the flow of people in common areas, including hallways and around lockers, to minimize crowding and allow people to pass through easily
    • Stagger start/stop times for recess, lunch or class transition
    • Prevent crowding at pick-up and drop-off times
  • Remind students and staff about respecting others’ personal space, using visual supports, signage, prompts and video modelling as necessary
  • Take students outside as much as possible

Ventilation

School districts must ensure heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are designed, operated and maintained to Occupational Health and Safety and WorkSafeBC standards.

Expert guidance is being applied using the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Reopening of Schools and Universities Guidelines to improve indoor air quality and reduce the risk of virus transmission.

ASHRAE recommends a combination of the following practices:

  • Regular inspection and maintenance of HVAC systems
  • Increased supply of outside air to dilute indoor contaminants
  • Upgraded filtration, including installing MERV-13 filters where possible
  • Use of other air cleaning or treatment technologies
  • Management of energy use and air distribution through building automation control systems

School ventilation updates or replacements

The province is investing $77.5 million to upgrade or replace school HVAC systems through 2021/2022. These upgrades include:

  • Full boiler and air-handling system replacements
  • Upgrades to fan coil systems
  • Filter racks to accommodate larger filters
  • Larger ductwork
  • Updating occupancy sensors along with direct digital control units for building automation controlling air-flow rates

During the 2020/2021 school year, $10 million in federal funding was used to:

  • Update HVAC systems to increase air exchange in 44 of 60 school districts
  • Purchase more than 45,000 ventilation filters
  • Update filters to MERV-13 filters in 24 of 60 school districts

For more information on ventilation in schools, see the HVAC Survey Report (PDF, 90KB)


Cleaning and disinfecting schools

General cleaning of schools, cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces will be conducted at least once in every 24-hour period and when visibly dirty.


COVID-19 protocols

Students and staff who become sick at school

If a student or staff member develops symptoms at school:

  • They will be given a mask and separated from their classmates or colleagues
  • Separated children will be supervised and cared for
  • The student's parent or guardian will be contacted, and asked 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

COVID-19 activity at school

The emergence of the more transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 has led to changes in public health management. Schools will notify public health and their school community if they observe lower attendance than normal, based on thresholds set by public health. Public health will then investigate to determine if additional action should be taken.


Local public health orders

Local public health orders may be put in place for entire regions or communities, including schools, or for specific settings or activities within a health authority region.

A local Medical Health Officer may issue a recommendation for an individual school, a group of schools, a school district or all schools within the health authority region, to implement specific additional health and safety measures during times of increased risk.


Rapid response teams

Six rapid response teams are in place to support K to 12 schools across the province. The teams work with school districts, independent schools and health authorities to respond to COVID-19 exposures in schools.

Rapid response teams have representatives from school and public health staff. The teams:

  • Work with schools, school districts and health authority staff to review significant school exposure events, make recommendations and support schools to enhance their communicable disease plans when needed
  • Review school or district COVID-19 communicable disease plans and related policies
  • Support schools with communications to students, staff and families regarding communicable disease prevention
  • Conduct school safety assessments
  • Support schools with implementing pandemic recovery plans, including a focus on mental health and wellbeing and addressing impacts on learning

In and outside the classroom

School visitors

Only visitors who are supporting activities that directly benefit student learning and wellbeing can visit schools. For example, teacher candidates, immunizers or meal program volunteers.


Music and physical education programs

Students can participate in music and physical education programs, with additional safety measures in place.

  • Masks aren't required when doing activities that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, like playing a wind instrument or participating in high-intensity physical activity
  • Students must continue to wear masks while singing
  • Shared equipment will be cleaned and disinfected and students are encouraged to wash their hands before and after use
  • Students will be asked not to share equipment that touches the mouth, like an instrument mouth piece or mouthguard, unless cleaned and disinfected in between uses

Sports, clubs and extracurricular activities

Sport tournaments are not allowed. Activities like sports team practices and games can continue.

  • Sport and extracurricular activities should be held outside whenever possible
  • Students will be encouraged to wash their hands before and after using equipment and cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing
  • Students will be asked not to share equipment that touches the mouth unless cleaned and disinfected in between uses

School meal programs

Food services (meal programs, cafeterias and fundraisers) will operate normally in the 2021/2022 school year.

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


Playgrounds

Playgrounds are a safe environment. There is no evidence of COVID-19 transmission in playgrounds. The following measures should be taken when using playgrounds:

  • Ensure students wash their hands before and after outdoor play
  • Minimize direct contact between students

Assemblies, gatherings and meetings

Host gatherings virtually, wherever possible. This includes:

  • ​Large gatherings, like school assemblies
  • Staff gatherings, like meetings or professional development activities

If a gathering must be in-person, limit the number of people to no more than 50% operating capacity. 


Added supports for students and staff

Mental health

As a result of the pandemic, we know students, educators, staff and administrators are living with anxiety, stress and other mental health needs.

Government has provided a one-time $5 million investment to support mental health services for students and staff, in addition to existing funding. These funds will allow schools to expand existing programs and introduce new supports to address the mental health needs of students and staff.

In spring 2021, a mental health working group was established with representatives from the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (BCCPAC), primary care, government, Indigenous educators and rights holders, administrative and union groups and other stakeholders in education. The working group is outlining key principles and developing resources to ensure the mental health needs of students and staff are being met.


Indigenous students

The ministry fully respects the jurisdiction of First Nations and their right to make their own decisions about First Nations schools. Visit the First Nations Schools Association website for the latest updates.

In the spirit of reconciliation and consistent with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, public and independent schools have been asked to engage with First Nations communities who have students enrolled in district schools as soon as possible to discuss return to school plans for September.

This will help to identify potential accommodations needed to support students who may not be returning to in-person classes.

  • 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

International students

International students arriving in or returning to B.C. are required to self-isolate for 14 days if they are not fully vaccinated (have received two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine administered more than 14 days prior to arrival). The following vaccines are approved for entry to Canada:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD
  • Janssen/Johnson & Johnson

Students are also required to submit a self-isolation plan and complete the federal ArriveCAN application prior to arrival.


Education programs

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 supports they can't get at home and is integral to their overall health.

Online learning

Both public and independent online learning schools offer 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 learn from home entirely, or learn at school and take some courses online.

There are 48 school districts with 53 public schools offering online learning courses. Independent online learning schools also offer courses and programs.

Discover online learning

Homeschooling

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

If you have a child who is immunocompromised or has a serious medical condition, you may be able to access the homebound program. Contact your local school district for more information.


Contact your school

Have questions? Your school or district is the best place to get help.

Find school contact information

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