MONTREAL -- With Thursday marking the first day back to class for French schools in the province, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge says he’s confident Quebec has the right safety measures in place at the right time.

With a new mask mandate at schools, health directives are changing as COVID-19 numbers rise in multiple parts of the province.

“If the pandemic changes, if we have a new wave, maybe public health authorities will send us new recommendations and of course we will follow them,” said Roberge outside St-Bernardin school in Montreal’s Saint-Michel borough.

Wearing masks indoors is part of the plan, he said.

“At this time, with the pandemic, with the masks we can avoid propagation and it’s a good way to let people and kids play with each other. We have to take care of the mental health of our kids, it’s our duty,” he said.

As staff welcomed students back to school, teacher Annie Prud’homme said she is trying to lead by example.

“We’re here to welcome the students. We have to show them that we’re confident and just take things one step at a time,” she said.

And while the French school boards were back in class, the English boards still have a few more days to prepare.

Lucie Vinet, International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinator at St. Anthony Elementary in Pierrefonds said teachers are getting their classrooms ready, sanitization stations are stocked and everyone is set for the first ring of the bell on Tuesday.

“We went through the logistics of the first day and what it's going to look like without having the full set of protocols from the government and certain other items. So right now, we sit and wait a little bit in terms of the final protocols, but those are details,” she said.

The school is continuing last year's contact tracing practices for shared spaces, and while there won't be class bubbles for students this year, there will be some limits on the playground.

“We've decided we're going to group our grade levels together outside, so as much as we're allowed to have students to mingle and play with other students outside, we're going to limit that for now,” explained Vinet.

Last year has taught the school a lot about how to teach in a pandemic – and lessons learned for staff and students go beyond health and safety, said principal Nick Laframboise.

“If anything it has intensified the values that we promote at St. Anthony, those values such as commitment, cooperation, respect, empathy, collaboration,” he said.