QUEBEC CITY -- Your children are on their way back to class. I know some of you have mixed feelings about going back to school.

Seeing your child or teenager go back to school and reunite with their friends after long months at home can be a source of great joy, but also apprehension, because although the situation has greatly improved since the school closures last March, the pandemic remains very present.

First of all, I want you to know that I understand you. Before becoming Minister of Education, I was the father of two wonderful young girls. Our children are our most precious things. As parents, we want to protect them like the apple of our eye.

Protecting our children against all dangers is what prompts us, together with the school network, to do everything possible to make it possible to re-open our schools in the fall. Because if the dangers of COVID-19 are very real, the effects of a prolonged closure of schools on the development of our children as well as on their mental health are even greater, as has been pointed out many times, and and rightly so, by the Association des paediatres du Québec and various experts in the school network. Our children need to go back to school. They need to be with their friends and make new ones.

Even more, they need to rebuild the unique relationship with the dedicated teachers who will play a crucial role in their educational success. Being at school also means being in direct contact with school staff. I am convinced that you still remember today at least one teacher who marked your career and helped forge the adult that you became.

Each new school year comes with its share of novelties. This year, these innovations take the form of regular hand washing, the wearing of masks in common areas for students in the last year of primary, secondary, adult and vocational training, and an assigned class for each group. These health instructions, drawn up in collaboration with Dr. Horacio Arruda and the office of public health, will allow us to prevent the spread of the virus while guaranteeing a most enriching educational experience for your children.

By trusting our public health experts and following their instructions, we will allow our students to return to school safely without the pandemic being relaunched. The success of the start of the school year last spring, which allowed thousands of elementary school students to return to class, proved this in a good way.

At school, your children will have all the support they need to start the school year on a strong footing. In view of this decisive start to the school year, we have increased investments in direct services to students to $100 million. These investments will allow schools to organize more remedial activities and homework help, hire more professionals and increase individualized follow-ups with students who would experience difficulties after the long absence from school.

We have also freed our remedial teachers, speech therapists, psychoeducators and other specialists from hundreds of thousands of hours of administrative paperwork. We will thus have more resources in the school network, and they will be able to devote themselves more quickly to what they do best: helping our students.

In the early days, teachers, professionals and the entire school team have the tools in hand to help your children, no matter their circumstances, start the school year on a solid footing.

As you can see, we have done our homework on the government side. I am also very grateful to all the players in the school network, who, for months, have been making incredible efforts to ensure that everything is in place to welcome your children. We also need you, dear parents. You have an important role to play in motivating your children, in giving them back a taste for school. Sometimes simple actions, like asking them how their day at school was and what they learned, can make a difference.

We also need your help to make your children aware of the importance of respecting the health instructions received by your schools. It is above all by respecting these instructions that we will make the start of the school year a success.

In the coming weeks, if everything goes as planned and the start of the school year has little effect on the epidemiological picture, we will be able to propose flexibilities that will allow schools currently unable to set up their usual programs to do so. Thus, the Sport-études, Arts-études, inter-school sports and extracurricular activities that may not have been offered in some schools from the start of the school year may be reinstated to allow students to rediscover their passions.

To achieve this, respecting stable class groups for the first few weeks of school will be important. The first step is to be able to effectively detect, isolate and contain the cases that will inevitably arise. This is the central issue in this exceptional restart.

Finally, we are appealing to your vigilance. Even though your child generally does well in school, returning to school after weeks of confinement may be challenging for him or her.

If you of your child has a special medical condition and has opted for distance education as a result, you will need to pay extra attention to their needs and make sure they attend their virtual classes.

In any case, if you see that your child seems to be having difficulty returning to school, contact the administration immediately so that help can be offered quickly.

All together, we will make this extraordinary back-to-school year a success for the benefit of your children because their success is the success of all of us.

Have a good start!

Jean-Francois Roberge

(Editor’s note: This letter was translated by CTV News from the French original)