A Laval, Que., high school teacher and his wife, a pediatrician, have launched an online petition asking Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge to reevaluate his back-to-school plan for September amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We have to be realistic,” Landry said. “If schools open the way they were announced on June 16th, it’s not going to work.”
Landry was inspired by a petition 2,000 Quebec doctors launched at the beginning of June, calling for the easing of social distancing rules for kids. Landry’s wife, Ste. Justine pediatric gastroenterologist Veronique Groleau, signed that petition.
“One week ago we saw the rules in daycare changed, we saw the impact of our petition,” Groleau said. “The toys are back in daycares, they can play together. We heard we played a big part in that. So my husband started his own movement.”
Landry has several issues with Roberge’s plan, which calls for children to be lumped into bubbles of five or six kids with no social distancing required. But those bubbles must stay at least one metre away from other bubbles. School attendance will be mandatory. Landry says the concept of bubbles poses myriad problems.
“Do the kids pick the bubbles themselves? What happens to the new kids in school that have no friends yet? Or what happens if a bully and the kid getting bullied wind up in the same bubble? Those questions we don’t have the answers to,” he said.
The petition calls the plan too restrictive, unhealthy and unrealistic. It says for the most part children aren’t getting sick from the coronavirus, and should be allowed more freedom of movement.
“It doesn’t make sense to be that restrictive for kids,” Groleau said. “We want kids to be kids. We want to let them be. If we don’t, it could have an impact on their development.”
The petition calls on the government to consult teachers, parents and pediatricians, and come up with a better plan. The petition says there should be a middle ground, balancing physical and emotional health.
“We think that right now it’s not enough teamwork and we don’t think enough about our kids,” Groleau said.
For its part, Quebec’s Provincial Association of Teachers also has issues with the plan. QPAT President Heidi Yetman says bubbles pose many challenges and would prefer to see children return to school on staggered days.
“I would have liked to have seen in the high school section 50 per cent return one day on, one day off, just because of the number of students walking into a building,” Yetman said.
She supports the petition’s demands for more consultation leading to the development of a better plan.
“Let’s hear from the people on the ground — the teachers — we need to hear their voices. They know what’s it’s like to be in a classroom and it seems the government is far far away from that reality,” Yetman said.
Quebec’s director of public health calls the plan a safe one. But he’s open to amending it.
“Actually, the decision is to keep that as a good balancing of the risk versus the social aspects with kids,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda. “So we will take that into account.”
“We have been basing our model on experiences coming from other countries with those bubbles. I think it’s probably at the moment a prudent approach,” Arruda said, noting “we will evaluate that again.”
As of the time of writing, the petition had almost 1,000 signatories.