Calling the COVID-19 pandemic a crisis situation, Premier John Horgan announced Tuesday that schools will suspend in-class instruction indefinitely.
With the exception of the Nechako Lakes School District and a handful of private schools, most school districts in the province are already on spring break.
“A difficult decision has been made to suspend K-12 learning in B.C. classrooms at this time,” Horgan said. “A decision on how to return will be made in partnerships with school districts.”
Education Minister Rob Fleming said the action is to protect students and schools.
“We’ve urged schools and school districts to being planning now to ensure a continuity of learning,” Fleming said, adding the ministry will work with districts to achieve this. “We also expect school districts and independent schools will have plans in place to maintain some level of service for children of people who are performing essential services on the frontline to combat COVID-19.”
He said teachers will be expected to prepare a “continuity of learning” for when spring break would normally end at the end of March. The ministry will work with districts to determine how to provide ongoing education services.
School District No. 57 is currently on a planned two-week spring break. All staff are expected to return to work on March 30 unless they are subject to a 14-day isolation or quarantine period.
Fleming said every student will receive a final mark this year; students who are on track to move to the next grade in the fall will do so; graduation assessments or Grade 10 and 11 students will be postponed; every student eligible to graduate this year will graduate; the ministry is working with post-secondary institutions to ensure that graduating students will transition to post-secondary smoothly.
“The actions we’re taking today are temporary,” Fleming said. “We will return to normal school life down the road.”
When it comes to workers the province going to be amending the Employment Standards act to protect workers and prevent layoffs in the event someone has to stay home to self-isolate,” he said. “We want to make sure that no one loses their job by doing the right thing.”
Changes to the Employment Standards Act will require legislative changes so, in keeping with the Public Health Officer’s mandate to limit gatherings to less than 50 people, the NDP caucus is working with the Liberal and Green caucuses on a way to pass legislation without requiring all MLAs in attendance.
“This is the time for all of us to come together and focus on the challenges that we face,” Horgan said. “We also understand that bringing the legislature back is inconsistent with some of the other messages we’re giving to the public about not congregating in large groups.”
He said they are looking a way to have a “vigorous debate” on the changes without requiring all MLAs present.
Urging the federal government that when they look at the Employment Insurance Act that they do not “short-change” the people in the crisis.
“It’s a go big or go home environment,” Horgan said. “This is a crisis situation and we need an appropriate response from all orders of government.”
He said there improvements that can be made to how Employment Insurance is accessed.
Finance Minister Carole James said the pandemic will likely push the province into a deficit situation.
“There is no question that COVID-19 will have global impacts and our economy in B.C. will be impacted,” she said.
James said she will regularly update the province on what those impact are and what the province is doing to help.
James said the province is working to ensure that services and supports are in place to support British Columbians; that it is working with Ottawa to bring in immediate relief for people and business; and, in collaboration with the business community, build a plan for recovery.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” James said.