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Quebec's back-to-school plan blasted by head of teachers' union

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MONTREAL -

The head of one of Quebec's teaching unions criticized the province's newly unveiled back-to-school plan for being too cavalier with student and staff health with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing.

“I'm very concerned for elementary schools in particular,” said Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers president Heidi Yetman. “Yes, it's good to see masks are going to be worn in common areas and hallways, but I would like to err on the side of caution. We should really be looking at more measures instead of less measures.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge rolled out the particulars for how the fall semester will work in the province's elementary and high schools. Students will be required to wear masks in common areas, but won't need to wear them in classrooms.

The plan also calls for the use of the province's soon-to-be-deployed vaccination passports for participation in some extracurricular activities. It also does away with the classroom “bubbles” that had previously been a mainstay of the effort to restrict the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Yetman said she was “concerned” about the lack of bubbles and social distancing, saying “We're going in with a variant that spreads like wildfire with students under 12 that are not vaccinated.”

Currently, only Quebecers ages 12 and over are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

“I'd rather go in with more added measures now and slowly remove them than to continuously change the measures as we move into the fall,” said Yetman. “Teachers have told us the most stressful part of last year was the constant change of directives every two weeks.”

However, the lack of bubbles was received more warmly in other quarters.

“For parents, when we did our consultation, they did not want to have bubbles anymore, so that's good news,” said Kathy Korakakis, head of the English Parents' Committee Association.

English Montreal School Board chairman Joe Ortona said the board is looking forward to “ having a return to normal as much as possible,” including a focus on in-person learning. However, the focus of the EMSB is “the safety and security of everybody and we're just not ready, right now, based on the numbers and trends, to go completely in that route.”

“I'm concerned they don't seem to go far enough right now.”

Ortona said it's too soon to say what additional measures, if any, the EMSB might implement in its schools.

“Obviously many parents are concerned about the measures. We are as well. We're going to consult with our stakeholders, including our teachers and if there are extra measures we have to take, we're going to do so.”

Above the measures themselves, Yetman decried the process by which the government made the decisions that will affect hundreds of thousands of students and their families.

“Consultation with this government has been non-existent,” she said. “We had a meeting with the minister of education earlier this week, we had half an hour with him and that was it. There was not really any consultation. He reaches out to us, he asks us our opinion and the following day it's already decided. It feels like the decisions have already been made and they're just checking how we feel about it. I wouldn't call that consultation.” 

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