MONTREAL -- A petition calling on the Quebec government to keep schools and daycares closed until September because of the COVID-19 virus has received an outpouring of support, reaching nearly 255,000 signatures in three weeks.

In his daily press briefings, Premier François Legault has been hinting at possibly opening schools in May for weeks – causing confusion and anxiety among educators and parents alike. 

On Monday, it became official: elementary schools outside of the Montreal region will be up and running as of May 11, with those in the city following suit a week later. High school, CEGEP and university students will remain at home until the fall. 

“There is no question of endangering the lives of children and adolescents by opening daycare centres and schools in May,” the petition reads. “We have to flatten the curve and wait until the situation has improved.” 

The petition also mentions how children who contract COVID-19 are often asymptomatic, meaning they could unknowingly spread the virus to their parents, who could then infect other adults. 

“Not to mention that the rules of distancing are almost impossible to respect in schools,” the petition continues. 

Legault said class sizes will be reduced to 15 children, but he acknowledged that physical distancing among them is likely not possible. However, he said that if they don’t go back to school now, they'll be isolated for nearly half a year. 

“If you go to September, it would be six months of not going back to school,” he said. “I think it wouldn’t be good for children having difficulties.”

Legault also said many of Quebec’s COVID-19 cases are now contained to long-term care homes, and that admissions at hospitals for the virus are down. 

Sending children back to school is optional – parents are free to educate them at home, should they so choose. Parents and children who are more at-risk to the coronavirus because of underlying health issues are being asked to stay home. 

“It's good for kids to see their friends, their teachers,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City on Monday. "We don't expect a vaccine before 12 to 18 months. So we can't keep kids at home for 12 to 18 months.” 

But teachers who are being called into work as early as May 4 to prepare for the students’ return have some concerns. 

“It feels like we’re going into a generalized daycare or a day camp, so parents can go back to work,” said Bancroft Elementary School teacher Francois Lukawe.

“It’s really too early to consider going back to school before September,” the petition says. “Economic pressure should in no way take precedence over health. Take the example of several provinces in Canada that will only be opening schools in September.” 

Those who sign the petition have the option of explaining why they decided to do so, and many have shared their thoughts. 

“Keep the children safe,” one person wrote on Wednesday. 

“I think the safety of our children and of my family is more important than being taught under stressful conditions for a month,” wrote another.