VICTORIA -- Students in British Columbia will be allowed to return to regular classes at the start of next month.

B.C. Premier John Horgan announced the voluntary return to school Friday, ahead of the government's reopening of much of the province next week amid its coronavirus response.

"This transition is voluntary," the premier said from Victoria. "It's time now, starting on June 1, for students to have the option for returning to school."

B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said the return to in-class education would be on a part-time basis, with staggered lunches, recesses, drop-offs and pickups.

"Students from kindergarten to Grade 5 will be in school half-time. This could be two or three days a week, but it means that elementary schools will be at 50 per cent or less of their normal capacity on school days," Fleming said.

"For students in grades 6 to 12, 20 per cent of students will be in a school at any one time and no more," he said, adding that would likely mean one day a week of classes for each student.

Students of essential services workers will continue to have access to schools full time, Fleming said.

The education minister said new daily cleaning protocols would be in place at all B.C. schools and administrators would work to limit students and staff from congregating in common areas.

"Students, educators and staff will be required to clean their hands upon entering school property," Fleming said. "And staff and students and parents must do a self-assessment daily for symptoms of COVID-19, influenza, the common cold. Any student or staff member with any symptoms, however mild, must stay home as that is the case with any workplace now right across British Columbia."

New busing protocols will mean only one student will be allowed in each seat, unless they are from the same household, the minister said. Plexiglas barriers will also be installed on school buses to separate the driver from the passengers.

"We also need to remember that a lot of young people returning to school will have experienced stress and anxiety in their lives as a result of this pandemic," Fleming said. "I know teachers and support staff are there to support students' mental health and well-being."

Online remote learning will continue to be available to all students in the province after the June 1 reopening, according to the province.

"Reopening our schools to in-class learning is an important step," said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Friday.

"It will look different, but it will be done in way that is safe for everyone. I want to assure all the staff, students and families that we will face the challenges that come with this transition together, and we will do it in a measured and thoughtful way.

"Some parents may choose to have their kids return on June 1, others will wait until September and that is absolutely fine," Henry added.