All Quebec schools to reopen in September: Education minister
MONTREAL -- All Quebec schools will reopen in September, the province's education minister announced on Tuesday.
Jean-François Roberge said during a press conference that the ability to make this announcement is "the fruit of many exchanges" between many actors in the school network.
Schools will reopen at usual capacity, but students from elementary school and those in their first three years of high school will be organized into subgroups of six students or fewer within their classrooms. Roberge explained that students in these groups will be like "brothers and sisters" – they will have to maintain one metre of distance from other groups and two metres from their teachers.
"The concept of the bubble has been used quite a bit in Europe, we've been discussing about that, and that's quite secure," said Dr. Richard Massé, the senior public health adviser, who gave the press conference alongside Roberge.
"Unless there is a medical condition that is very specific, children will have to go to school, and teenagers as well, from six to 16 years of age," Roberge said.
Roberge said this announcement is being made based on the success that was seen when elementary schools reopened in May.
"The students were a lot more mature than a lot of grown-ups," in their ability to respect distancing guidelines, Roberge said.
When the Quebec government announced it would reopen elementary schools amid the pandemic, as cases of the COVID-19 virus were still on the rise, it was met with criticism from both parents and teachers alike.
Many parents felt like their kids were being used as guinea pigs to see if reopening would lead to outbreaks or if the situation could be kept under control in classrooms. Despite outbreaks in some schools, Roberge said the virus likely came from students' families and not from inside the classroom.
"If the specialist of healthcare in Quebec says it's safe, I think we should have confidence in them, they know what they're doing," Roberge said.
The minister also repeated what officials have said since the start of the pandemic: staying out of school for too long may be harmful to children and teens.
"A lot of specialists say, of course the virus is dangerous, but not to go to school is dangerous too. It's dangerous for our success rate, it’s dangerous for the kids, for their mental health," Roberge said. "So, I believe we should do all we can to prepare the schools to (welcome) almost all kids."
For Secondary 4 and 5 students, whose course schedules are more complicated, schools will be able to choose between two options: following the closed-classroom model applied to students in Secondary 1, 2 and 3, or alternating between learning from home and learning at school. The idea would be to attend in-person classes one day, and online classes at home the next.
High school students will stay in their respective classrooms instead of moving from class to class and their teachers will come to them.
Roberge applauded CEGEP and university students for succeeding in their semesters despite having to finish their degrees online amid the pandemic. Students from higher education schools will also be able to return to their classrooms in the fall as long schools can ensure 1.5 metres of distance between students and two metres from teachers.
"I trust after working with directors of CEGEPs and universities that we will have the greatest possible (amount) of people on campus," Roberge said. "Everybody is mobilized to maximize the presence on campus while respecting health measures."
Roberge is asking people from CEGEP and universities to prioritize having students in their first semesters attend in-person classes because "it’s a change, and it’s important to have as much physical presence as possible."
The education ministry is tabling emergency protocols, Roberge said, "to be ready to face a possible second wave."
These protocols should be in place by September, and serve to make sure schools can "very quickly go toward a part-time presence for those who are full-time, or even toward a closure of establishments without ever stopping the schooling," Roberge said.
On Monday, officials announced that indoor gatherings of 50 people or less will be allowed in Quebec as of June 22 as long as physical distancing guidelines can be met.