MONTREAL -- A Grade 7 class at a private school on the South Shore was sent home during back-to-school week because a parent of one of the students has COVID-19.

Quebec authorities, however, now say that response was overkill.

Parents of 35 kids at Collège Français Annexe Secondaire in Longueuil were called to come pick up their children on Thursday morning, the school principal told CTV.

The father of one of the children in the class had been tested for COVID-19, but the school wasn’t notified at first, said principal Chantal Dubé. 

Administrators were only informed on Thursday morning at around 10 a.m. or 10:30 a.m., when the man got his positive results, said Dubé, who speaks French and communicated with media partly through an English-speaking spokesperson.

At that point, after a staggered school re-entry process, that Grade 7 class had spent a day and a half together with the child in question, she said. Their first full day was Tuesday, and the student with the infected parent was absent on Wednesday, she said.

As soon as the school found out, it took the students out of class and alerted their parents, she said. Students in the affected class were kept isolated from other students at the school.

Getting further instructions proved to be more difficult. Dubé said the school consulted guidelines sent to them by the Ministry of Education and a private schools' association and, as they directed, called the local public health department.

The health authorities told the school to confine the students in the classroom immediately. They said to wait until receiving further guidelines, but that in the meantime, it would be "safe," or acting on the safe side, to send the kids home, according to Dubé.

School administrators were asked to describe more details of the situation and to explain exactly how they had set up the school for students' return this week, and with what physical precautions.

The school had to wait several hours before hearing more. 

In a press conference in mid-afternoon, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said the school went overboard by sending home the whole class. 

At around 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m., health authorities told the school directly that all the children in the class can return to school tomorrow, except for the child of the infected man.

Individual parents still have the choice to keep their kids home from school if they wish, said Dubé. When asked if the school has the right to ask the whole class to stay home for longer as a precaution, she and the English spokesperson simply said the school isn't taking that route.

"We wanted to act prudently to protect our students and their families," Dubé told CTV. "What's most important for us is to be able to give parents correct information."

Roberge, the education minister, says that overall, things went well on what was the first day back at school for many kids. Students at many Quebec private schools and those in Montreal's public French system went back today. The English Montreal School Board's first day is Monday. 

For the Collège Français, after its staggered re-entry, the full school is scheduled to be back on Friday.

Roberge said that the College Francais’s reaction showed attention to precaution and prevention, which he praised, but he said that in the end the school didn’t need to send all the kids in the class home.

According to health rules, Roberge said, schools with a positive case linked to a student are only required to isolate the child and to advise public health authorities.

Then, he said, the parents of kids in that child’s “bubble” – or others who had come into contact with that child – will be advised on whether they should be tested.

Under the province’s health rules for schools, each class is now considered a “bubble” where all of its students are considered to be in close contact with each other. 

The previous version of Quebec's plan had each class broken up into smaller groups of up to six students, who would be kept distant from the other groups within the class, but that idea was abandoned.

When asked about the frustration of parents who were called to pick up their kids almost immediately, Roberge repeated that the protocol is to put the child who had direct contact with the infect person in isolation, and to let public health handle contact tracing.

Quebec Premier François Legault, in his own remarks to media on Thursday, said that there had been some confusion around the situation, but that was to be expected with the first couple of days of school as everyone adjusts.


An earlier version of this story reported that the Collège Français's first day of school was Thursday; in fact, the school has a staggered re-entry lasting throughout the week, and the class in question had its first full day on Tuesday. CTV regrets the error.