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Quebec college students may be in classes or exams over Christmas holiday: CEGEP president

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College students in Quebec may be taking exams or even classes over the winter holidays, as administrators scramble to find ways to hold the required number of classes in a semester.

Federation of CEGEPs president Bernard Tremblay said that CEGEP students are required to be in class for 82 days per semester. With three strike days already on the books and more strike days coming, filling those that obligation is going to prove difficult.

"We have to look at ways to move the calendar in a direction so we can meet the requirement, which will mean going over Christmas," said Tremblay. "We're thinking of doing some classes after Christmas and even in January."

Cancelling classes is also a possibility, Tremblay said.

Quebec's largest English CEGEP, Dawson College, confirmed to CTV News that it would not hold classes or exams over Christmas break. The current plan is to add four class days to this semester after Dec. 14 (the last day of the strike) and for to begin exams on Jan. 8, a spokesperson said.

The CEGEP will be closed at the end of Friday, Dec. 22 and will reopen on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

The Common Front, which includes unionized CEGEP staff, announced on Tuesday that seven days of strike action will start on Dec. 8 if no deal is reached.

Some CEGEPs also held student strikes this semester, which puts further stress on the schedule.

There is also the possibility, Tremblay said, that Higher Education Minister Pascale Dery could authorize a semester to be considered complete with fewer days, but that situation is not ideal as there is a reason a semester requires 82 days.

"It's because we think it's necessary for the students to have that time to absorb what they have to learn in that semester, so that would not be a good thing just to diminish the number of days that we have in the semester," said Tremblay.

In particular, for fields of study such as nursing, policing or trade programs, it is essential to have enough classes to teach all the material.

Tremblay said the minister is in communication with CEGEPs and understands the situation.

It is not the first time CEGEP administrators have had to deal with long pauses during a semester.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and 2012 student strikes, calendars had to be adjusted to complete semesters.

NO UNIFORM ANSWER

All CEGEPs have different student bodies, set-ups and schedules, so coming up with a uniform solution to exam periods and class schedules is no easy feat.

In addition, adjusting schedules could be extremely difficult for international students. Students from out-of-country at CEGEP de Matane, for example, make up almost half of the student body, and administrators there will need to consider whether it's legal to hold exams or classes in January, Tremblay said.

"In that case, you have to really think about the fact that for some students from other countries, the study permit has a length that has to be respected. Otherwise, they are in a difficult situation," he said.

Make-up days in January will affect the winter semester as well.

Finding an ideal situation is difficult for administrators as there is no guarantee that further strike action will not take place. On the other hand, negotiations could be fruitful, and Common Front members will not walk off the job next week.

"It's hard to say which scenario is the best, and that's part of the problem. We have to adjust to a situation that is still moving. There's not one good response to the situation." 

Common Front negotiators are slated to meet Treasury Board president Sonia LeBel at 4 p.m.

The four member organizations - the CSN, APTS, FTQ and CSQ - represent around 420,000 workers in Quebec.

With reporting from CTV News Montreal journalist Olivia O'Malley.

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