Quebec announces additional funding to get students back up to speed this fall
MONTREAL -- A week after Quebec shared its updated back-to-school plan, the province’s education minister announced additional resources designed to help children succeed in the classroom this fall.
Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said the plan shared last week – which essentially involves children in grades five and up wearing masks in common areas – was well received by parents.
"But obviously, we were missing something that we will (share) today," he said at a press conference in Quebec City on Monday.
The province is adding three new measures to five that have already been put into place amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Roberge said.
The first measure is a $20-million investment in the school network, which will be used to bring students back up to speed with their studies following the months they spent at home over the spring.
"It’s going to be particular this year," Roberge said, noting that students who already struggle with learning are at a disadvantage, and those who haven’t had difficulties in the past could have fallen behind during their time away.
The funds will be for schools to hire additional technicians, tutors, and professors to work closely with students, but could also be used to extend the hours of those who already fulfill those roles on a part-time basis.
Roberge said the resources will be selected by individual schools based on their needs -- by those who "know the children by name." An estimated 350 professionals could be hired using the $20 million, Roberge said, depending on how the schools choose to use the resources.
The second measure will be to remove a lengthy process that dictates how and when schools are allocated funds to support students with learning disabilities, which usually takes weeks.
"Rather than spending the first weeks of the start of the school year completing administrative procedures, remedial teachers, psychoeducators, psychologists and other professionals as well as teachers and school staff members will be able to invest their energies directly with vulnerable students," the Education Ministry said in a statement.
This change is estimated to free up over 560,000 hours among the professionals.
The third measure the government announced on Monday is a communication campaign designed to make parents aware of these measures and to encourage the return to school of all students.
Coupled with five measures the government had already put in place amid the pandemic, an additional $100 million has been invested in education this year compared to last, Roberge said.
"We're reassuring parents and all school personnel; we’re helping them," he added.
In a statement on Monday, parents group la Federation des comites de parents du Quebec said its members are satisfied with the government’s announcement.
"After the announcement of the health measures last week, parents were waiting for more information about educational services in the current context," the statement reads.
"The FCPQ is satisfied with the funding announcement that will allow school service centres and schools to incur costs for resources that their community currently needs."
SOME NOT REASSURED
The money will help in some areas but will by no means fix all the urgent safety problems in schools, some said.
"I haven't seen any money for infrastructure like ventilation," said Heidi Yetman, the head of the union for teachers in Quebec's English schools.
"I've taught for 23 years and seen half the windows in a classroom taped shut because if you open them they might fall out of the frame," she said.
She also wants to see more funding given to mental health services for kids and staff because of all the extra stress they will be under.
Katherine Korakakis of the English Parents' Committee Association said she wanted to understand what each school day will look like and how her child would learn among all the changes.
"Reassure me that my child will be safe," she said.
Some parents have shared concerns over fears of children catching and spreading the virus to more vulnerable family members, as well as the population as a whole.
Roberge maintained that in-person schooling from ages six to 16 is mandatory in Quebec, but that parents can opt to homeschool their children independently if they want to.
There is one exception: parents of children who are immunocompromised or those who live with people who are immunocompromised are eligible for distanced learning if they can get a doctor's note. In this scenario, they would receive support from the child's school and teachers.
Some parents, however, have said they have struggled to get notes from doctors.
"I can't replace the judgment of the doctors of course, but what our public health director said was pretty clear; students have the right to have all the services to learn from a distance," if they are at risk for COVID-19 or if they live with someone who is, Roberge said.