Montreal private school forging ahead with mandatory masks despite government resistance
MONTREAL -- A handful of Montreal private schools have learned that the province's rules around mask-wearing for schoolchildren will be strictly maintained -- but not in the sense they assumed.
The Montreal private school Trafalgar School for Girls wanted to put stricter guidelines in place, but the government says the school's rule goes too far and is forcing the school to abandon it.
Trafalgar administrators made the decision to go with mandatory masks in the classroom after consulting with parents and health-care workers.
"They said really, masks full-time was the way to go," said school head Katherine Nikidis.
Government guidelines require masks for students in Grade 5 and up in common areas. The rule does not apply to classrooms, which some say does not go far enough.
"We want to be incredibly vigilant and make sure the girls have the opportunity to feel comfortable and not worry, 'Am I wearing it? Not wearing it?,' and just wear it," said Nikidis.
JPPS Bialik Elementary School had planned to follow Trafalgar's lead.
"We had all these plans for mask breaks, times of day when they’d be able to take them off, slowly build up their tolerance to it," said the co-principal of Bialik, Marnie Stein.
Stein has now had to retract a message to parents saying masks would be mandatory for all students starting in kindergarten.
"Before this directive came out, our sense was we can always do 'more than' -- just not 'less than' -- so this really threw us for a loop," she said.
Premier Francois Legault said in a news conference Tuesday that it is not necessary to wear masks in classrooms.
Education authorities added in an earlier press conference that public and private schools do not have legal powers when it comes to public health and they cannot make mask-wearing mandatory.
Quebec's health minister says the province does not intend to adjust its back-to-school plan, despite criticism from doctors and scientists who have called it inadequate.
Christian Dube told reporters Tuesday the plan was created in partnership with experts in the health and education fields and it will not be changed in response to the concerns raised in an open letter signed by some 150 doctors and scientists.
"Our plan is solid," he told reporters in Montreal.
"We're always open to suggestion, but I think at this time we have a clear plan, we have a way to go with schools, we'll go this way and if we need to adjust, as we've done in the last six months, we'll adjust."
Dube pointed out that the province successfully reopened most elementary schools in May, and that the number of new cases have been declining even as Quebec reopened its economy and allowed inter-regional travel.
The province's current rate of positive tests, which stands at about 10 cases per million citizens, makes Quebec "one of the places where COVID is best controlled in the world," he said.
Aside from Trafalgar and Bialik, other private schools were looking at creating their own mask rules. Loyola High School, for example, told CTV it is reviewing potential measures it could put in place, but with the province's halt, all private schools remain waiting at the behest of the Quebec government.
--with files from The Canadian Press