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Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses fears around B.C.'s back to school plan for fall

"I think this speaks to people's anxieties and we all have anxieties. We are learning as we go with this virus, but we also know that there are important things children can only get from being in classroom settings"
a-empty-classroom-is-pictured-at-eric-hamber-secondary-school-in-vancouver-b-c-monday-march-23
empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. Dr. Henry says the provincial government has worked in collaboration with school districts, teachers, administrators and parents groups to produce a framework that allows them to have confidence in the safety of students and staff. Photograph By THE CANADIAN PRESS/JONATHAN HAYWARD

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry remains confident about children returning to school this fall, despite an online petition protesting the mandatory change that has garnered more than 19,000 signatures.

"The government is pressuring our kids to go back to school even though it is still unsafe as COVID-19 cases are increasing consistently on a daily basis, and yet they just keep repeating that “this is a robust plan”, in hope for our buy-in," reads the petition webpage.

In Tuesday's press conference, Henry addressed the concerns of those who have signed the petition and called it a learning curve for everybody involved.

"I think this speaks to people's anxieties and we all have anxieties. We are learning as we go with this virus, but we also know that there are important things children can only get from being in classroom settings."

She says the provincial government has worked in collaboration with school districts, teachers, administrators and parents groups to produce a framework that allows them to have confidence in the safety of students and staff.

The plan is to continue with physical distancing guidelines within schools, avoidance of physical contact, and preventing the "mixing and mingling" of students, in a similar fashion to the reopening of workplaces and other parts of society. 

There are also downsides in terms of mental wellbeing and educational teaching that children experience by not being at school, says Henry, and creating a balance between that and safety is paramount. 

"We need to make sure that schools are a priority setting. We need to be able to give children the instructions, the class, the type of teaching that they need in those settings as well, so it is finding that balance of making sure we're doing everything we can to reduce that risk - knowing that this virus is going to be with us and we need to find a way to live with it - and still have those absolutely critical learning opportunities for children." 

She also reiterated the province has "no intention" of making mask-wearing mandatory for children in schools.