Despite urging physical school attendance, Quebec backup plans underway
MONTREAL -- Though Quebec authorities want nearly all of the province’s children to physically return to school in just over a week, backup plans are also underway, especially for remote schooling.
Schools’ emergency protocols are due on Sept. 15, each laying out a plan in case of closure.
Meanwhile, the newest in a stream of documents sent to education officials, arriving late this week, laid out the province’s “essential learning” expectations during COVID-19 for different grade levels.
“Each school will have to have their emergency protocol in place—they have to be ready to go if the school closes,” said Heidi Yetman, the head of the association representing teachers in Quebec’s English school system.
Schools plans and precautions have seemed chaotic to many parents, from poor building ventilation to school bus management to the medical exemption system that was only just clarified.
For teachers, there’s even less direction from the ministry about the return to class, said Yetman. While it was easy for teachers to get medical exemptions in the spring, now they are “very difficult to obtain” and teachers’ groups still haven’t heard from the province on which groups will qualify, she added.
For those who do, what exactly they’ll be doing is also up in the air. “Some of them will be asked to do maybe telework or asked to take on a different role,” she said.
Much of that negotiation is happening within each board. At the EMSB, spokesman Michael Cohen said the board should have more information for teachers in “the next few days.”
Contingency plans in case of closure, however, are being written in lockstep across the province. Virtual teaching in particular seems to be better organized since the ad-hoc effort in the spring, said Yetman.
TEACHING THROUGH AN EMERGENCY
The province has sent two kinds of guidelines—one for amounts of time that must be spent doing schoolwork, in case of schooling going online, and one for subjects that must be covered.
In Grade 10, for example, in case of school closure, the province requires that students have 15 hours of teaching and 7.5 hours at home of individual work “that they should be putting in, of some sort,” said Yetman. On top of that, teachers must make themselves available to answer questions for five hours per week.
The document on “essential learning” - explaining which parts of each class are crucial and which may be dropped if needed - arrived on Friday, and only the elementary-school version.
The various rules have been trickling out over the last two months. The basic plan has been in place since June, and the timeframe guidelines were out earlier this month, Yetman said. The detailed rules are generally sent to director generals of school boards.
The school-by-school emergency protocols are all due to the education ministry on Sept. 15 and require each school in Quebec to provide its own playbook, said Yetman.
This includes how the school will organize remote learning (though much of this is often organized at the board level), how it will help special-needs kids and how it will “support kids who don’t have technology,” said Yetman. It must include a plan for communicating with parents.
VIRTUAL SCHOOLING FOR THE EXEMPTED
The more immediate plans for virtual education are more uncertain, at least in English Montreal, partly because of all the changing rules around in-person classes.
At the EMSB in Montreal, for example, some parents were told this week that a “virtual school” was under consideration, bringing together kids and teachers who have medical exemptions and grouping the kids by rough grade level.
The board spokesman, Michael Cohen, said the board hasn’t yet settled on a final plan—it is waiting to see how many students have medical exemptions.
That would be “a pretty smart idea,” said Yetman, who added that she’s also heard the concept floated.
“If you have a bunch of [students] who are exempt, then you have a bunch of teachers who are exempt, why don’t they all work together?” she said.
However, the news this week that the province is expecting doctors to be very strict in granting exemptions could change how well it works, she said, since it could mean only a few dozen children across all of Montreal get exemptions.
“A virtual school of 40 kids is pretty small,” she said.
SPIKE IN HOME-SCHOOLING REQUESTS
One thing the EMSB has been needing to tell many parents is that virtual schooling is not the same as home-schooling, said Cohen.
The board has been getting hundreds of calls from parents who say they want to home-school, without realizing this means withdrawing their kids from the school system entirely, he said.
To get permission to home-school, parents must first apply to the provincial government. Once they’re authorized, the province sends their information to the school board. The EMSB has a home-schooling team that works with each family to explain what their responsibilities are.