Back to school in B.C.: What to expect in classrooms across the province

The province announced updated public health measures for primary and post-secondary schools on Aug. 24, welcoming students back with less physical distancing and more extracurricular activities.

File photo: A school bus near Revelstoke Secondary School. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

As seasons change and fall approaches, students and parents are preparing to head back to school. Ahead of this transition, the Government of British Columbia has released updated health guidelines for primary and post-secondary education.

On Aug. 23, the province announced finalized communicable disease guidelines for this school year. Students are returning to classrooms full-time and in-person, with extracurricular activities including music and sports resuming.

“We know how excited students and families are about being back in school with extracurricular and sports programs and how important it is for children to be connected to their teachers and friends on a full-time basis,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education. “We also know we can do this safely, even as the pandemic continues to present challenges.”

Guidelines for K-12 gradually easing

While mandatory physical distancing guidelines are being phased out, mask mandates will continue through the 2021/2022 school year.

All staff, students in grades four to 12, and visitors are required to wear masks in all indoor areas, including at desks and on school buses. Students in kindergarten through grade four are encouraged, but not required, to mask up.

With the continuation of sports and music programming, masks can be removed if needed to participate in these activities. For example, during high-intensity exercise or when playing a wind instrument. Additionally, exceptions are made for students who cannot wear masks due to health or behavioral reasons.

Strenuous cleaning protocols, improving ventilation systems, and enforcing hand hygiene remain a priority for school districts across the province.

Changes to the health and safety measures include the ability for health authorities to introduce additional regional measures specific to individual schools or school districts where community transmission rates are higher.

Post-secondary students return to campus

After spending the past year learning through online courses, post-secondary students are finally returning to campus this fall.

Mask mandates and vaccination requirements are the two biggest changes students face this year. Masking is mandatory in all indoor public areas, including lobbies, hallways, classrooms and labs.

Following the Aug. 24 immunization announcement, accessing some non-essential services on-campus will now require proof of vaccination. This applies to indoor venues, including gyms, nightclubs, restaurants, sporting events and concerts.

Read more about the recently announced provincial vaccination requirements here: 

B.C. government announces proof of vaccination requirements for non-essential businesses

Students who are living in on-campus housing will also require proof of vaccination. However, the province is still deciding which types of on-campus housing this requirement will apply to. According to authorities, another update will be provided in the coming days in regards to on-campus housing.