MONTREAL -- The Centrale des unions du Québec (CSQ) and its school federations have written to Minister of Education Jean-Francois Roberge and his colleague, Minister of Health Christian Dube to urge them to adopt the "precautionary principle" in relation to the transmission of COVID-19 by aerosol in schools.

In a letter dated Friday and also addressed to the Quebec director of public health Horacio Arruda, the unions said they have been calling for improved ventilation in schools for years.

"We have been calling for decades for action to be taken to ensure better air quality in our schools and centres, but due to austerity policies, we are now under an obligation to open the classroom windows in the middle of winter, which is completely inconceivable," the unions said in their letter.

In the current emergency, they are calling on the government to act immediately to protect children and school staff.

They demand, among other things, to close school premises that are not ventilated, to immediately remove pregnant women from schools and to establish a schedule of maintenance and tests, which would be made public.

The unions are once again calling for the use of air purifiers as a "back-up solution" in the classroom. These devices are not unanimously approved of among experts, as Quebec public health judged that they could even harm if they are improperly installed.

President of the Federation of School Support Staff Eric Pronovost stressed that air purifiers would be placed by professionals who would know how they work.

"The recommendations don't say no to air purifiers, but, as an extra measure, it could be interesting," he said.


The unions have remained eager for the carbon dioxide tests to be carried out by the ministry.

Earlier this month, Roberge said that out of a sample of 1,369 classrooms, only 3 per ccent of the premises were a problem - and they should no longer be used while waiting for an alternative solution. The government has announced its intention to tour some 3,300 schools.

In this sample, an average of 804 parts per million (ppm) was detected in the classes. Quebec had given itself an acceptable standard of 1000 ppm, although a standard of 5000 ppm is tolerated in the workplace.

However, according to the unions, all school premises must be tested, not just the classes, and all the schools in the province must be inspected as soon as possible.

"The average is often that you really have above and below. We want clear, crisp and precise data. We must be diligent in the quality of the air," said Pronovost.

"That the government stop hiding data, that it give us precisely that, that it does not tell us about the average and that it take tests everywhere in all school buildings in Quebec. It's been years since it should have been done."

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021.