Dear First Nations and First Nation Schools,

The First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) and First Nations Schools Association (FNSA) are providing this update to support First Nations in planning for the 2020/2021 school year.

We are sharing the latest available information as well as approximate timelines for upcoming announcements and resources.

The health and safety of students, schools, and communities remains our highest priority as we move toward September. As always, we respect the authority of individual First Nations to make decisions about the education of their learners based on local circumstances. We will continue to support First Nations throughout this process and will provide additional information as it becomes available.

First Nation Students in Public and Independent Schools

On July 29, 2020, Minister of Education Rob Fleming announced the Province’s September restart plan for public and non-First Nation independent schools.  The plan requires public and non-First Nation independent schools to re-open on September 8th with full-time in-class learning.

The plan features a suite of COVID-19 safety measures to help protect students and staff in accordance with the latest public health recommendations. Students will be organized in cohorts (Learning Groups) to help limit contact and potential exposure.

Provided for your reference, the following resources have been shared by the Ministry of Education to explain the expectations on school districts and what school will look like in September.

  1. K-12 Education Restart Plan (Sept. 2020)
  2. COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 School Settings –  Important update: See the BCCDC Addendum (March 30, 2021) for significant changes to mask and face covering guidance.
  3. WorkSafe BC Protocols for K-12 (updated March 2021 – this resource is no longer available but please visit the WorkSafe BC website)

Recognizing the authority of First Nations for their learners, and recognizing their responsibility for making decisions about the health and safety of their citizens, First Nation independent schools are exempt from the requirements to fully open and submit a planning template to the Ministry.

A number of expectations apply to public school districts and non-First Nation independent school authorities at any stage of the Restart Plan. Expectations include that school districts/independent school authorities should:

  • Regularly consult with First Nations to discuss the provision of educational services and transportation for First Nations students, with an understanding of the historical impact of pandemics on First Nations communities and the ways in which that may impact the decisions of First Nations governments, parents and students.
    • Where a Local Education Agreement is in place, engage with First Nations to review and amend agreements as necessary in response to the pandemic.
  • Regularly engage with Indigenous parents and caregivers to ensure that Indigenous students are provided with equitable, culturally appropriate education supports regardless of stage.

Parents and communities can also expect alternative methods of delivery, to be jointly determined by Boards and First Nations, for students from First Nations that remain closed and will not be sending students back to public schools in September.

If a First Nation decides that they will not be sending students back to public school for health and safety reasons, school districts will have to work with that First Nation to develop a plan for how education will continue to be delivered to those students.

First Nation Schools

FNESC and FNSA fully respect the authority of individual First Nations to make decisions about school operations in the best interest of their schools and communities and we recognize that there will be a diversity of delivery methods in place for September.

K-12 Education funding will continue for the school year 2020/21, including funding administered by FNESC and FNSA. This includes the Special Education Program, the First Nations Language and Culture Program, the School Bus Capital Funding program, Local Education Agreement (LEA) funding grants, School Assessment Program and School Growth Plan Follow-up Grants, the Innovations in Education Program, and the First Nations and Inuit Youth Employment Strategy Programs.

To support schools in their planning processes, FNESC and FNSA will be preparing a variety of resources tailored to the needs of First Nation schools and communities in preparation for September.

Professional Learning / Information Sessions

Beginning in late August there will be a number of online sessions available for FNSA Authorized Representatives, First Nation school staff, and education coordinators. Registration information will be available shortly. Featured sessions include:

  • August 20th COVID-19 Back to School Planning: Considerations for School Start-up
  • August 27th COVID-19 Back to School Planning: A Chance For You to Share (Regional Breakouts)

School Reopening Planning Template and Other Resources for First Nations Schools 

A School Reopening Planning Template for First Nation Schools and other resources will be developed in collaboration between the FNESC Executive and the FNSA Board. The template will draw on materials being developed by the Ministry of Education and will be shared later in August once complete school health and safety guidelines have been released.

A School Restart Considerations Checklist will provide a short summary of tasks and resources to support September planning in various school-related areas.  

A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Document and Tripartite Communication will be developed and shared at a later date.

COVID-Specific Additional Funding

Approximately $1.5 million in grants to First Nation schools will be distributed by FNESC. Grants will be based on school population and specific funding letters will be sent out soon.  The grants are intended to sponsor activities including:

  • the purchase of technology or other learning resources for students in the event that some remote learning will continue in the coming school year;
  • the purchase of plexiglass, other types of barriers, wall mounted disinfectant dispensers, new or added furniture, kitchen supplies, etc. to prepare the school for returning staff and students;
  • the purchase of personal protection products, safety supplies (e.g. masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, etc.), or cleaning supplies;
  • school wide cleaning, such as HVAC systems, etc.;
  • school bus adaptations to safely transport students.

On July 29th, the Ministry of Education announced an investment of $45.6M for the public system to support September COVID preparedness.  In keeping with BCTEA commitments, we are working with Indigenous Services Canada to ensure that proportionate funding is distributed to First Nations schools. Details on this additional funding will be available once confirmed.

Next Steps

FNESC and FNSA will send further information as soon as possible. We thank you for your patience while we continue to engage with the BC Ministry of Education and Indigenous Services Canada to ensure BC First Nations learners, schools, and communities are fully supported.  Your feedback and questions are welcome.

You can find this update and related resources on FNESC’s COVID-19 information page.