Students Back in Classrooms

The Province’s Back-to-School Plans Spark Controversy

Key Actors:
  • Dr. Bonnie Henry – BC Provincial Health Officer, Professor at UBC
  • Rob Fleming – Minister of Education
  • BC Teachers Federation
New Plans Announced

As this year’s back-to-school season rolls around, attending class is shaping up to be very different from the average school year. As COVID-19 cases are decreasing, BC’s Minister of Health, Dr. Bonnie Henry, believes it’s time to prioritise mental health. According to Henry, “the impact of closing schools can be lifelong for some children,” and we must reopen as soon as possible. So, on July 30th, BC’s Minister of Education, Rob Fleming, announced that schools will be reopening doors to all students following the Labour Day long weekend. As per the advice of Dr. Henry, students will be organised into “Learning Groups” to minimise the transmission of COVID-19. The size of a student’s Learning Group will be determined by their age. Students attending elementary and middle school will be coming into class on the same day as only 60 of their peers. Secondary school students will be in learning groups of twice the size, at 120 students. The provincial government has also pledged $45.6 million to enhance safety measures in schools, such as the availability of masks and the regular sanitisation of high-contact surfaces. 

Public Response

Many parents and students are feeling relieved after reading this long-awaited update. For many, learning from home was a challenge, especially for younger students with working parents. Students experiencing mental health issues from the concerning world events, such as increased anxiety and depression, will likely be much better off going back to school. However, despite the funding, emphasis on mental health, and specified preventative measures, many students, parents, and teachers alike are unhappy with the new system in place. 

The BC Teachers’ Federation stated on July 31st that this “change is significant and [it] caught everyone by surprise.” That is also why they are “calling on the government to … make changes to the plan.” The BCTF does not believe that enough time has been put into this to make it safe for staff to come back to school. 

In a recent online survey conducted on July 28th by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, only 40% of parents in BC stated that they would like to send their kids back to school, 19% lower than the nation’s average; 12% said that they were not going to send their kids back and 48% said that they were undecided. Upon hearing that masks are not mandated in schools, many parents are worried about how their children are going to stay safe. 

Students themselves are also angry about this and have taken to online petitions and the BC government’s Instagram to have the policies reviewed. Most students are, like their parents, concerned about the optional masks and are wondering why attendance is mandatory. In June, students could attend school on an as-needed basis, which made in-person education safer for students and teachers. Now, students require a doctor’s note to attend classes from a video call instead or face the difficult choice of leaving their high school altogether for homeschooling. In just two days, Edmond Luk’s petition to keep attendance optional has amassed over 20,000 signatures from students in BC. 

What Comes Next

As of now, the future is uncertain. When Fleming and Henry shared their intentions last week, they sounded certain that these plans were set in stone. Considering the reaction from the general public, it is very likely that at least some changes will be made before September, such as mandating masks, increasing funding, or making class attendance optional. For now, the issue is once again up in the air. 


BC COVID-19 Data. Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

BCTF. “BCTF Response to Government Plans.” Twitter, Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

Canada: WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

Engagement, Government Communications and Public. Return to School: What to Expect in Stage 2. Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

Jul 29, Michelle Ghoussoub ·. CBC News ·. Posted:, and 2020 4:00 AM PT | Last Updated: July 30. “Most B.C. Students to Return to School Full Time in September | CBC News.” CBC, Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

“Keep ‘Return to School’ in BC on Optional or Voluntary Basis in September 2020 | Petition.” Change.Org, Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_804/classess-will-be-empty-of-students.jpg

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