After nearly two months away due to the novel coronavirus crisis, thousands of young students and children are headed back to elementary schools and daycares in most parts of Quebec on Monday.
The partial reopening of the education sector — which excludes the hard-hit Greater Montreal region — comes as the province continues to see hundreds of new COVID-19 cases every day.
Quebec’s premier has stressed public health authorities will be keeping a close eye on the situation. Attendance is not mandatory, and parents who wish to keep their children at home may do so.
Elementary schools and daycares will not be operating as they did before the pandemic, however.
Strict social-distancing measures are still in effect, which means there will be a maximum of 15 students per class. Frequent handwashing and carefully co-ordinated school days are also planned.
Under the plan, rigorous disinfecting and cleaning measures will be in place. Libraries and gyms are also closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
Mélanie Primeau, principal of Howick Elementary School, said the administration has taken all necessary precautions to ensure that the school’s students stay safe. She likened the return to the first day of school — except with new restrictions.
“We need to show them these rules and make them happy as possible so they can learn,” she said.
Stephen Moore is a parent who decided to send his children back to school. He described it is as a “test run” for students during the pandemic but said he could always remove his kids from the classroom if there are any problems.
“With the smaller amount of kids coming back, it gives the chance for the kids to get used to it. It gives the school a chance to get used to it,” he said.
While most elementary schools and daycares in Quebec are opening on Monday, the Greater Montreal area is expected to follow suit on May 25.
High schools, CEGEPs and universities will remain closed until the fall in order not to crowd public transit systems.
Quebec, which has the highest number of cases and deaths attributable to COVID-19 in Canada, is the first province to reopen schools. As of Sunday, there are more than 37,000 infections and 2,928 deaths.
As a result, the province has faced criticism for its plan from teachers’ unions and parents, but Premier François Legault has defended the decision.
Legault has argued that Quebec can’t be in lockdown until a vaccine is created, which could be as far as two years away. Children need to see their friends and teachers, he added.
“Life needs to continue,” Legault said when he announced the reopening in April.
— With files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and the Canadian PressView link »