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.
Last updated: August 24, 2021
On this page:
- Our plan for the 2021/2022 school year
- Health and safety measures
- COVID-19 protocols
- In and outside the classroom
- Added supports for students and staff
- Education programs
Students and staff should:
The provincial K to 12 Education Steering Committee has worked with the Ministry of Education and the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) to finalize updated communicable disease guidelines for this school year. The committee is made up of educators, parents, support workers, school leaders, trustees, First Nations, Métis Nation and public health experts.
The updated communicable disease guidelines cover many topics, including mask use, hand hygiene, vaccinations, regional responses to the pandemic, cleaning, ventilation, gatherings, extracurricular activities, meal programs and sports:
Safety measures are in place to protect students and staff and reduce the spread of COVID-19. These include effective personal practices like regular hand washing and the wearing of masks.
All students and staff must complete a daily health check. If you 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.
The K to 12 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.
Download the app:
All K to 12 staff, students in grades 4 to 12, and visitors are required to wear masks in all indoor areas, including:
- At their 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
Students in Kindergarten to Grade 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.
Keeping your distance
Strict physical distancing is no longer required. Schools can continue to create space between people, including:
- Managing flow of people in common areas, including hallways and around lockers, to minimize crowding and allow people to pass through easily
- Preventing crowding at pick-up and drop-off times
- Reminding students and staff about respecting others’ personal space, using visual supports, signage, prompts and video modelling as necessary
- Using available space to spread people out where possible
- Taking students outside as much as possible
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
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.
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
If a student or staff member is confirmed to have COVID-19, and were potentially infectious while they were at school:
- Public health will investigate to determine if there were any potential close contacts within the school
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
- Recommend self-monitoring for symptoms if necessary
- Provide follow-up recommendations if necessary
Schools will ensure students who required to self-isolate are able to continue their educational program. Together, schools and public health officials will determine if any other actions are necessary.
Parents, caregivers and families will be notified by public health if your child was determined to be a close contact of a COVID-19 positive person.
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.
Additional regional measures are likely to be similar to those in place during the 2020/2021 school year and could include:
- Limits on gatherings and events
- Modifying room arrangements or using more activities that maximize space between people and reduce face-to-face contact
- Limiting visitors
- Increasing mask use
Rapid response teams
Six rapid response teams are in place to support K to 12 schools across the province. The teams will 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 will:
- 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
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
Activities like sports team practices and games, sports academies and events can continue. They will follow local, regional and provincial public health recommendations and orders for community gatherings and events.
- 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 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, concerts and gatherings
Larger indoor activities like school assemblies or multiple classes in a gym must follow current province-wide and regional restrictions. Participants should be seated throughout the area in such a way as to use all available space in the room.
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.
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 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:
- Janssen/Johnson & Johnson
Students are also required to submit a self-isolation plan and complete the federal ArriveCAN application prior to arrival.
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.
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.
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.
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.