MONTREAL -- With the COVID-19 crisis putting pressure on Quebec's health network, the province's school boards could be forced to loan staff to ease the pressure.

A ministerial order signed by Health Minister Danielle McCann on April 10 would give the provincial government authority to loan out any staff working for school boards and CEGEP.

The order cites the public health emergency declared on March 13, which has since been renewed multiple times, as giving authority to take extraordinary measures to “protect the health of the population.”

“Despite any provision of the collective agreements or national, local or regional agreements in force between the school boards and colleges established under the General and Vocational Colleges Act and the body of unions, any person may be redeployed to perform other duties or functions within the health and social services network, even if the person's level of employment is not respected for the duties to be assigned to the person.”

The order stipulates that a staff member's union or association be consulted before they are redeployed “unless the urgency of the situation does not permit doing so, in which case the unions or associations must be informed as soon as possible.”

In a memo sent to all English Montreal School Board staff on Saturday, Director General Ann Marie Matheson said the order applies to all staff, including executive and senior management, unionized employees and administrators.

“It is important to remember that the EMSB has not yet been called upon,” wrote Matheson. “But as the largest English School Board in Montreal, it is quite possible that we will be called upon to help our colleagues in the Health sector. And if we are, then we will rise to the occasion.”

“School Boards in areas / regions where support and reinforcements are needed most will be contacted first,” she added.

According to the memo, the ministerial order dictates that school boards must maintain their essential services such as emergency daycare, payroll and academic support for students while staff is on loan.

Requisitioned school board staff would still be paid through the boards while on loan. Employees would also continue to accumulate seniority, vacation days and other benefits while working in the health network.  

EMSB spokesperson Mike Cohen said the board did not yet know if or how it would be affected by the order.

"Our director general wanted our staff to read about this first through her, not through the media," he said. "We don't have any further information."

Earlier in the week, Premier Francois Legault suggested Quebec's schools could re-open before May 4, an idea he walked back on Saturday, saying such a step would not be taken without weighing the risks to children.