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Coronavirus: Parti Québécois education critic weighs in province’s back-to-school plan

Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon responds to reporter questions, Friday, May 6, 2016 at the entrance of a special caucus meeting in Quebec City.
Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon responds to reporters' questions, Friday, May 6, 2016 at the entrance of a Parti Québécois special caucus meeting in Quebec City. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec’s controversial plan to reopen elementary schools in two phases for the final weeks of the 2019-20 academic year has been met in recent days with increasing frustration from school boards and opposition politicians alike.

Elementary schools in Quebec are currently scheduled to reopen on May 11 outside the Greater Montreal area, with elementary schools in and around the island set to follow eight days later, on May 19. High schools, CEGEPs and universities will not resume in-person teaching until the fall.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge clashed publicly with the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) this weekend over QESBA’s public reluctance to reopen classrooms.

“There are still far too many unknowns that compromise the ability to safely reopen,” QESBA’s nine member-boards said in a joint statement.

READ MORE: ‘They don’t have the power’ — Quebec says English school boards will not mandate reopening

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Roberge’s office responded by saying English school boards do not have the ability to stop their schools from reopening, adding the decision had the support of public health officials in the province.

But Parti Québécois education critic Véronique Hivon told Global News Morning that she and her colleagues in other opposition parties feel their attempts to provide constructive criticism on the execution of school reopenings are falling on deaf ears.

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The PQ has proposed sending students back to schools either for half-days or on alternating days to better accommodate physical-distancing requirements.

“The reasoning is quite simple,” Hivon told Global’s Laura Casella. “Because when you have more than 15 kids who raise their hand to come back to school physically, you won’t be able to make sure they’ll be with their own teacher in their own classroom.”

READ MORE: Provinces must provide emotional support to students after COVID-19 — advocates

Roberge, however, has flatly refused the PQ’s proposal, something Hivon finds frustrating.

“I really regret his attitude towards this idea and other constructive ideas that we’ve put forward,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be compulsory. It’s just to give ideas to the field, and to school boards, so they can decide what’s best for them because they can decide what’s best for them. Everything he’s been coming up with is just dates.”

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The Joliette MNA compared the education minister to “a scout leader saying ‘We will do it,’ but he’s not providing the tools.”

Hivon said that when she, Liberal education critic Marwah Rizqy and Québec solidaire’s Christine Labrie all asked questions of the education minister at last week’s parliamentary committee on education, “we didn’t hear anything new, and I think it’s quite worrying that the minister and the ministry, and the government themselves, are telling teachers, ‘Well, just do what you can.'”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — World’s largest aircraft carrying PPE lands in Quebec

The former cabinet minister also voiced support for a recent petition to allow graduating secondary school students one final day to return to the classroom to allow them to say a proper goodbye.

“Oh yes, I think it should because the rituals of going from one time in your life to another one is very important. It’s important for them emotionally, psychologically,” she said, adding: “I hope the government will find a way.”

Hivon indicated that the government’s refusal thus far to consider the idea seemed incongruous to her with its insistence on returning younger students to class as quickly as possible for the sake of their mental well-being.

“If it’s important for primary school students to go back to school for (their mental health), it should be the same for secondary, high school students, so we hope that this will be put in place.”

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