COVID-19 safe schools

Students, families, teachers and staff should plan for a full return to the classroom in September. Current health and safety measures must be followed for the remainder of the 2020/2021 school year, including summer school. 

Last updated: July 12, 2021

2021/2022 school year

Planning for a full return to the classroom

Students, families, teachers and staff should plan for a full return to the classroom in September. Online learning programs and homeschooling will remain available for students.

Based on guidance from the Provincial Health Officer, students will not be organized into learning groups when classes start in September, but will continue to be required to stay home when feeling sick, wash their hands and complete daily health checks.

The provincial K to 12 Education Steering Committee, made up of educators, parents, support workers, school leaders, trustees, First Nations, Métis Nation and public health experts, will continue to work with the Ministry and the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) to finalize health and safety guidelines for September 2021.

Updated health and safety guidelines will be posted in August and will address masks, gatherings, extracurricular activities and sports.

Daily health check app

The K-12 Daily Health Check website and app is an easy way to decide if your child should attend school based on their symptoms. It includes current health guidelines and offers an age-appropriate user-experience for K to 12 students.

Bookmark the website:

Download the app:

Daily Health Checklist:

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.

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.

Learning impacts and additional needs

After assessing learning impacts and additional needs, Boards/ISAs have been asked to address them through provision of appropriate supports and services, with a focus on students who may have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including students from Indigenous communities, students with disabilities and diverse abilities and students from low-income families.

International students

International students and boarding students who are residents of B.C. will follow the same in-school protocols as domestic students for the 2021/22 school year.

All international students arriving or returning to B.C. are required by law to self-isolate for 14 days. Students are also required to submit a self-isolation plan and complete the federal ArriveCAN application before arrival.

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.

2020/2021 school year

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

Review guidance and guidelines:

Masks in schools guidelines

All K to 12 staff and all students in grades 4 to 12 are required to wear non-medical masks in all indoor areas, including:

  • At their work stations (desks)
  • On school buses
  • Within and outside learning groups

Exceptions 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 (including but not limited to a hearing impairment), where visual cues, facial expressions and/or lip reading/movements are important

Students in Kindergarten to grade 3 are encouraged to wear a mask indoors in schools and on school buses. Mask wearing remains a personal or family/caregiver choice for these students, and their choices must be respected.

Health guidelines

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.

Within a learning group, physical distancing should include avoiding physical contact, minimizing close, prolonged, face-to-face interactions, and spreading out as much as possible within the space available.

Classrooms will be set up to promote spacing between students where possible.

Outside of a learning group, physical distancing should include avoiding physical contact and close, prolonged face-to-face interactions, spreading out as much as possible within the space available, and making sure there is two meters of space available between people from different learning groups.

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)
  • Seating arrangements where students directly face one another should be avoided where possible, particularly for middle and secondary schools
  • 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
  • Bus drivers (except while driving), other adults and students in grades 4 to 12 are required to wear non-medical masks. Exceptions will be made for students and staff who cannot tolerate masks for health or behavioural reasons
  • Students in grades K to 3 are encouraged to wear a mask indoors in schools and on school buses, but are not required to do so. Mask wearing remains a personal or family/caregiver choice for these students, and their choices must be respected
  • 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 to those that support student learning and development

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.

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

Schools may add barriers in certain locations 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.



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 for the 2020/2021 school year to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. 

A learning group could be made up of:

  • A single class of students (20 to 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 also include staff, like:

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

COVID-19 protocols

The Provincial COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines for K-12 will be further updated in August 2021 to address additional topics (e.g. masks, sports and extracurricular activities, field trips, gatherings and events) in alignment with public health recommendations and orders in place at that time.

In the meantime, schools and school districts are expected to continue to follow the current provincial health & safety guidelines, including for summer school programming.

Daily health checks

Parent and caregiver responsibilities

Parents and students are encouraged to use the provincial K-12 Daily Health Check website and app to complete the daily health check. 

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.

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-isolate if they have: 

  • Tested positive for COVID-19, or have been tested and are waiting for their results
  • 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.

Testing students before a return to school

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

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

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

Review the BCCDC guidelines on when to get tested for COVID-19.

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 information to assist with contact tracing
  • Provide guidance on what steps should be taken

Public health may then:

  • Recommend 14-day self-isolation 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. 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 suppports they can't get at home and is integral to their overall health. 

In September 2020, school districts contacted all families in their school community to share their safety plan and to confirm if they planned to have their child attend classes in September or required another option.

Other options

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

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 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 allow 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 have access to and receive the same supports and services they had prior to the pandemic.

Boards of education and independent school authorities are expected to identify students impacted by the pandemic who require additional supports, and ensure supports are in place.

  • 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 are identified through a needs assessment. School districts and independent school authorities then develop continuity of learning plans for those students to ensure equity of access to learning.

  • Continuity of learning plans align with the goals identified in a student's Individual Education Plan (IEP)
  • They are 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 complete a self-quarantine 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 about 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 and outside 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

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

Under the updated health and safety guidelines, high-intensity physical activities need to:

  • Maximize physical distancing
  • Reduce physical contact
  • Be held outdoors as much as possible

Shared equipment or items like weight machines and treadmills can be used only if they are cleaned between use, according to strict school sanitization guidelines.

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


Under the updated health and safety guidelines, students and staff in music classes should be spaced as far apart as possible. K to 12 staff and students in grades 4 to 12 are required to wear a mask while indoors. Masks can be temporarily removed while engaging in an educational activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, like playing a wind instrument, but must be worn while singing.

Shared equipment or items like musical instruments can be used only if they are cleaned between use, according to strict school sanitization guidelines.

Assemblies, concerts and gatherings

Gatherings or events at a school, including social gatherings of students and/or staff, must follow the PHO order – Gatherings and Events (PDF).

Small gatherings can only occur within a learning group.

  • A gathering cannot exceed the maximum learning group size (60 or 120) plus 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.

Five stages framework

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

Good news in education

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


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