The Quebec government has unveiled its long-awaited education plan after all establishments were closed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The progressive reopening comes after the province ordered all academic institutions to close in the middle of March.
Here is what we know about how that will work.
Who is going back to school and when?
Students in elementary schools and children in daycares will be able to progressively return beginning next month. Elementary schools and daycares in zones less affected by the COVID-19 outbreak will open on May 11. This does not include any schools in the greater Montreal region, which remains the epicentre of the outbreak.
Then, if hospitalizations from COVID-19 remain stable or decrease, elementary schools in the greater Montreal region will gradually open starting on May 19.
High schools, CEGEPs and universities will remain physically closed until the next academic year begins in late August and September. CEGEPs and universities will finish their semesters online and high schools will continue with the year’s academic curriculum online.
Do students have to go back to school?
No. Attendance is not mandatory and parents may keep their children home if they choose. The provincial government stressed that neither parents nor students will be penalized if families choose to keep their young children at home.
Are students with health conditions supposed to return to school and daycares?
The government is asking all students with health conditions to remain at home. If a student lives with a person who has a health condition that puts them at risk, students should not return to class. This also applies to students who live with seniors.
Why are high schools staying closed?
Legault said the province is taking its time to reopen schools in order not to overburden the health-care system.
So far, children have been shown to be less at risk for coronavirus complications, but the government said the reopening of schools and daycares has to be strategic.
Premier Francois Legault previously nixed the idea of sending one million school children back simultaneously in September, calling it too risky.
He also said the strategy is to not overwhelm public transit systems with students from high schools and post-secondary students.
Will social-distancing measures stay in effect?
The government says two-metre distancing rules will be in place in elementary schools. As a result, classrooms will be limited to about 15 students.
Daycares will only be permitted to operate at 50-per cent capacity, and staff will be equipped with protective equipment. Teachers in elementary schools will not be required to wear protective gear, and neither will the students.
There will also be a one child per seat policy on school buses, and bus drivers will be protected behind plexiglass.
Schools can might also alternate recess time to ensure there are fewer children outside at once.
Government cites children’s physical and mental health as reason
Both Education Minister Jean-François Roberge and the premier said the well-being of children is also a factor in the decision.
“I think it’s good that they see their friends again, that they see their teachers again. I don’t see children cooped up for 12 to 18 months,” said Legault.
Twelve to 18 months is the timeline estimate for a vaccine.
Officials also added that keeping schools closed posed considerable risks for students with learning disabilities.
Teachers above 60 asked to stay home
The education minister is also recommending that teachers over 60 years of age stay at home and teach and work remotely.
Laptops and tablets to be made available
Starting in May, Roberge said schools will reach out to families inviting them by appointment to go pick up their children’s education material — which includes laptops and tablets with internet access.
Who will fill in for educators who stay home?
New grads and students who have completed three years of a university education program will be called to fill in as replacement teachers.