Quebec is aiming for a 'normal' back-to-school session, but teachers want to see a plan
MONTREAL -- Elementary and high school students will be able to say goodbye to masks and bubble classes at the beginning of the school year, if the epidemiological situation allows it.
On Wednesday, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, and public health director Horacio Arruda presented a plan for the start of the 2021-2022 school year, which will be updated in early August.
"I'm pleased with this recommendation from public health, of course, because it's obvious that kids have better mental health when they can see each other from other classes. And it's important that the younger students can see the face of their teachers. So we hope we will be able to keep this plan after August and to have a normal school year," said Roberge at a news conference.
They both warned that the plan could change, without really explaining what criteria they will use to make a final decision when the time comes.
Quebec wants at least 75 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds to have received their second dose of vaccine by the start of the school year, but that's not a firm target, Arruda said.
Currently, 45 per cent of youth in this age group have either received a first dose of the vaccine or made an appointment to receive it.
"We're looking at that coverage, ... but we're not just looking at one factor," Arruda said. "Is there going to be a new variant? What will be the epidemiology? Will we still have very few cases in Quebec? It is possible at this point that we will still accept it."
Arruda said he believes that students have a 90 per cent chance of having a completely normal start to the 2021-2022 school year.
Basically, they should all be back in class full time by the end of August, without masks or face coverings, and without being confined to bubble classes.
In addition, they will be able to resume their specific programs (sports studies, arts studies), their elective courses and their extracurricular activities.
Schools will have to be vigilant, however, by maintaining enhanced maintenance measures, icluding more frequent cleaning of surfaces. Students will continue to be required to wash their hands diligently.
Should the situation deteriorate, and COVID-19 become more widespread, Quebec will revert to sanitary measures in an emergency protocol on a "targeted, ad hoc and temporary basis."
VENTILATION REMAINS A CONCERN FOR TEACHERS
Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT), said she has some concerns following the news conference and said teachers need more details.
“My initial reaction was fantastic, we're all going back to normal. My second reaction was, there is no plan,” she said. “There's a lot of ‘ifs’ that are attached to going back to normal. If the 12-to-17-year-olds get vaccinated, if there isn't a fourth wave, depending on what's happening with the virus -- so I feel that we really don't have a plan. And we're going to have to wait until August, like we did last year, to see what's going to happen in the fall.”
Ventilation in schools remains an issue, too, said Yetman.
“The ventilation piece is still a huge issue for us. You know that ventilation is so, so important,” she said. “We need transparency, and we need to rebuild trust. There is a there there's a lack of trust from our teachers towards the Ministry of Education right now. And to rebuild trust and transparency, all these tests that were done in ventilation. We don't know what the results are. We're not being told anything. There's no transparency.”
Roberge said upgrades and repairs to ventilation systems in schools will continue this summer. Specialized equipment to measure CO2 levels in classrooms will be deployed.
In addition, Arruda said on Wednesday that he may review the directive prohibiting high school proms.
He said he understands "the frustration and anger" that is brewing in Quebec because young people will not be able to experience this rite of passage for a second year in a row.
"Currently, the vaccination status of young people is not sufficient," said Arruda, who said he is ready to consult with his teams to possibly make adjustments. "I'm committed to doing some very quick assessment with my teams to see under what conditions potentially, and when, it could happen," he said.
-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 2, 2021. With files from CTV News Montreal.