Return to school isn’t mandatory
By Hunter Cresswell
When asked about the province’s plan to begin re-opening schools on May 11, Western Quebec School Board chairman Alain Guy said he’s happy the provincial government seems open to education recommendations the Quebec English School Board Association sent, but when asked if he saw all those recommendations reflected in Quebec’s announcement he said, “yes and no.”
On April 27, the government of Quebec announced the gradual reopening of preschools, elementary schools, and daycares across the province, with some exceptions such as the island of Montreal, starting just two weeks later. This would bring an end to almost two months of school closures in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think two weeks is probably fast but we will do our best,” Guy said, adding that he has the “utmost confidence” that the board and staff will pull it off.
Earlier this month, the Quebec English School Boards Association — which is made up of the nine English school boards across Quebec including the WQSB — sent a list of recommendations to the provincial government about education issues during the pandemic. It urges that World Health Organization health and safety guidelines should be met to determine how to safely reopen schools and keep them open.
“It’s going to be very gradual, it will be prudent, and it will be voluntary,” Guy said about the reopening.
“There are many logistical challenges ahead, transportation, school organization, staffing just to name a few. Our dedicated staff, as always, will work to the best of our abilities to be ready for our students on May 11,” Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) director-general Mike Dubeau wrote to this reporter in an email. Gatineau MNA Robert Bussière said reopening the schools now while the curve seems to be flattening, the majority of people infected are in senior care centres, and less than one per cent of children are affected is a good idea. “We do have to start back, and May 11 to me is a good date,” he said. Going back to school is not mandatory so parents can choose to keep their child learning at a distance. Parents must communicate their decision to the schools and not change their mind for the rest of the school year. The Montreal Gazette reported that Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge asked parents to give schools their decision a week in advance.
“We don’t expect the full school to come back,” Guy said, adding that the government estimates less than 50 per cent of students will return to campuses.
Dubeau said that school board staff and officials share concerns that parents and students might have about reopening schools during this stage of the pandemic, such as maintaining a physical distance of two metres from others in a classroom setting. Some concerns can be solved at the school level but others may require information or directives from the Ministère de l'Éducation et de l'Enseignement supérieur.
“The Minister of Education’s plan calls for maximum class sizes of 15. In most cases, classes will be big enough to allow for social distancing. In cases where the classroom itself does not allow for social distancing we can either reduce the number of students in the class or find an alternate classroom,” Dubeau stated.
“The two-metre social distancing will be respected, not only for the students but staff as well,” Guy said.
Bussière recommended that children with immune deficiencies or who live with people vulnerable to the coronavirus don’t return to schools.
“There will be additional services offered to the ones who choose to keep their child at home,” he said.
Bussière said that if classrooms are too crowded to maintain two metres of physical distance, overflow classes could be taught in empty high schools.
High schools, CEGEPs, colleges, universities, vocational training centres, general adult education centres will remain closed except for online learning.
“They’ve done a wonderful job to get online and get students on board,” Guy said about Heritage College CEGEP, where he also serves as interim chair of the governing board.
He added that the campus will likely not reopen for physical classes until this fall.