By Sidhartha Banerjee/The Canadian Press
Quebec school administrators are attempting to sketch out what a return to class will look like as COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted in the province.
While other governments have resisted sending children back to class, Quebec is planning to reopen primary schools in most of the province next Monday and in the Montreal area on May 19.
Some English school boards have offered parents an idea what that would entail. In one letter last week, Riverside School Board made it clear it wouldn’t be business as usual.
“Basically they will be in their classroom, six feet apart,” board chair Dan Lamoureux said in an interview. “And there’s no guarantee the child will definitely have the same teacher or room, so it’s a complicated issue.”
Among the measures:
- Children will largely be confined to their desks the entire day in a two metre by two metre bubble, with staff not allowed to enter that zone without protection.
- Students might not be at the same desk or with the same teacher as they were before the pandemic hit.
- Bus transportation will be limited due to physical distancing and must be reserved in advance.
- There won’t be breakfast or hot lunches or cafeteria access. Students will eat lunch at their desks.
- There will be no arts, drama, music or gym classes, and recess will be restricted.
Lamoureux said it was important for parents to know about the public health guidelines and what to expect to make an informed decision. The government has said parents won’t be required to send their children.
“Thinking that the school is going to be reopened in the same manner as when it closed — it’s not going to happen that way,” Lamoureux said. “Our first priority has been the students, the staff and the community at large.”
Throughout the province, officials are tackling numerous issues including bus transportation, school schedules, extra staff for after-school care and potentially having to take extra students to high schools.
How many students will return?
Nicolas Prevost, the president of the federation representing more than 2,000 school administrators outside Montreal, said between 50 and 60 per cent of parents have said they intend to send their kids.
A deadline to make their intentions known came on Monday, but the Federation Quebecoise des Directions d’etablissement d’enseignement had initially pegged the number of returning students at about 40 per cent, said Prevost.
“It’s good news, it means parents have confidence in schools to put in place security measures that will respect public health, both for students and employees,” Prevost said, adding most schools will be ready.
Teachers reported back to work and rooms were being measured and preparations made ahead of the arrival of children.
Prevost said teaching will consist of review given students have been absent for several weeks, with a focus on French and math. Another challenge will be ensuring equity between those students staying home and those in class.
Human resources stretched
Human resources could also be stretched at some schools, Prevost said. About 25 per cent of employees aren’t expected to return, either because they are more than 60 years old or have underlying health issues.
Prevost also said the maximum of 15 students mandated by the government wouldn’t be possible in most classrooms, meaning extra classrooms and staff would be needed.
“The size of most classrooms in Quebec don’t allow for 15 students while respecting two metres physical distancing,” Prevost said of the aging infrastructure. “The maximum is nine or 10 kids.”
Premier Francois Legault repeated English school boards would not be allowed to put off opening their schools after the association representing the boards said they wanted to reopen “if and when” they believed the situation to be safe, regardless of the government’s schedule.
“We still have two weeks in front of us and we say we accept that it’s not perfect,” Legault said, saying he understood the anxiety of all Quebec parents. “But they cannot decide that no school will be open for the anglophones. They cannot do that.”
The English Montreal School Board — serving students in the area hardest hit by COVID-19 in the province — announced similar measures to Riverside on Monday.
Caroline Phaneuf, president of EMSB’s parents committee, said she’s not convinced many parents will take advantage and said the measures left her less worried that children would be left behind if they didn’t return to class.
Phaneuf said the committee’s position has been that schools should’ve opened in September and the preceding months be used to develop an online teaching platform to be used in public schools.
“In September, we will still have these social distancing measures to deal with,” Phaneuf said. “We think online learning will be necessary in the fall and we don’t want our children to lose another school year.”
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