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Premier Legault shows little patience for English school boards’ push to delay reopening amid COVID-19 crisis

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Legault shows little patience for Quebec’s English school board’s pushback on school reopening plan' Coronavirus outbreak: Legault shows little patience for Quebec’s English school board’s pushback on school reopening plan
Coronavirus outbreak: Legault shows little patience for Quebec's English school board's pushback on school reopening plan – May 4, 2020

Quebec Premier François showed little patience on Monday when asked about the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA)’s push to delay the reopening of its schools amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“They cannot decide that,” Legault said at his daily press briefing.

The premier firmly said the province’s English school boards will open their schools as told. He added that the choice is not up to them, but up to public health.

On Friday, QESBA issued a statement saying its nine member boards don’t yet feel safe enough to reopen their establishments. It said that its school boards will decide if and when each of their establishments will reopen, once they are sure that all safety conditions can be met.

READ MORE: Quebec says English school boards will not mandate reopening

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This came after the Quebec government laid out its plan — which does not force children to return — for the gradual reopening of schools in Quebec throughout the month of May.

Legault reiterated the fact that the choice remains up to parents on whether or not to send their child back to class.

On Sunday, the government’s ministry of education said QESBA does not have the legal authority to make any such decisions.

The government said that public health carefully evaluated all factors and made an informed epidemiological decision when approving the government’s reopening plan.

The statement also recalled that Quebec’s pediatric association has called for schools to reopen for the physical and mental health, development and well-being of children.

QESBA president Dan Lamoureux called the government’s move a “hastily announced plan” that the public does not feel confident about.

READ MORE: Quebec English School Boards Association pushes back on reopening of schools

The association said the safety measures issued by public health required in order to reopen — including reduced class sizes (maximum 15 students), two-metre physical distancing, no group meals, enhanced sanitary measures and cleaning, a 75-per cent reduction of the number of children on school buses and no staff over the age of 60 — might not be possible in all schools.

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Still, Legault said the education sector has two weeks to prepare.

“We [know] that [the] situation is not perfect,” added the premier.

The government has repeatedly said it will not hesitate to walk back its plan if public health officials advise them to.

Elementary schools and daycares in zones less affected by the COVID-19 outbreak are set to open on May 11. This does not include any schools or daycares in the greater Montreal region, which remains the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Then, if COVID-19 hospitalizations remain stable or decrease, elementary schools and daycares in the greater Montreal region will gradually open starting on May 19.

The government has stressed that sending children back to school and daycare is optional, and has recommended that children with health issues or children who live with at-risk people should stay home.

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