VICTORIA, B.C. – The winter term starts Monday for students across the province, and health officials spoke on Friday afternoon about the preparations and plans to ensure staff and student safety.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says school administrators have spent the last week preparing students to return from the holiday break.

“This week, our K to 12 school communities have been working hard to put enhanced protocols in place, and to plan for how we’re going to weather this storm and ensure that we’re able to provide those essential educational services to our children across B.C.,” said Henry.

“I want to give my gratitude and thanks to all of the educators and school staff, and parent groups and families across the province for what you have done in this past week putting things together and will continue to do as all students are returning to classrooms next week.”

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside says the education system is ready to adapt to possible shifts to online learning and where and how students learn. Each school will make the call whether enough teachers and staff are in place to operate schools.

While she did say the structured settings have proven to be places where kids can interact and be social in a way that is safe, Dr. Henry says she understands the decision whether or not to send your child to school is challenging.

“When in doubt, keep your kids at home.”

School District 60 Superintendent Stephen Petrucci sent out a letter to parents on Friday afternoon, warning that there may be a need for “functional closures” as the region battles the Omicron variant.

“With staff absenteeism due to illness likely to increase significantly, we foresee the need for functional closures,” wrote Petrucci. “These closures will not be district-wide but will instead take place at specific schools where we are unable to provide instruction and operate safely due to a lack of staff.”

School principals will notify parents of a functional closure as soon as possible. If there is insufficient supervision in the morning, parents will be notified and students will be sent home.

“Every effort will be made to communicate with you the day before a closure. While the duration of the closure and staff availability are hard to predict, it will likely be in the range of five to eight calendar days.”

According to Petrucci, supervision of children of essential service workers and families in need will continue to be made available, as long as supervision is adequate.

Click here for a link to the letter from Superintendent Stephen Petrucci.