Quebec students who are in Grade 5 and above will be required to wear masks in hallways and common areas but not in the classroom as they head back to school amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The updated plan unveiled by the province’s education minister Monday comes as parents and teachers expressed concerns as the academic year looms. Jean-François Roberge described the return to school as an “exceptional situation” but said students must be offered the ability to properly socialize and learn in the classroom.
“It’s crucial to reopen our schools for our children and our teenagers,” said Roberge.
Under the plan, masks will not be mandatory in the classroom. They will be obligatory in common areas and hallways in schools for older elementary school, high school and post-secondary students as well as teachers and staff.
When asked why students will not have to wear masks in classrooms, the director of Quebec public health said such a requirement would be hard for children and teenagers.
“Wearing a mask all the day is difficult for an adult, so imagine for kids,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda.
The revised measures also mean Quebec students will not be separated into small bubbles within their classes as was previously announced by the government.
Roberge said the province’s initial plan to separate children and teenagers into small groups of six has been nixed and, instead, the bubble “has been enlarged to include the entire class.”
He explained there will be limited mixing between classes and in the event of an outbreak, the entire classroom bubble will be sent home to continue studies remotely.
Students will not have to practise physical distancing in class, but they must remain at least two metres apart from one another in common spaces.
While all elementary and high school students will be expected to return to school at the end of the month, children with significant health problems will be offered a remote learning option.
Quebec is also maintaining an option for students in Grades 10 and 11 to physically attend classes one out of every two days, if their school cannot organize stable classroom bubbles.
Teachers’ association expresses concern
Health Minister Christian Dubé said the updated plan comes as the government is “actively preparing for a second wave” of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
“I want to reassure our parents, our children that we will follow the situation closely as we have over the past weeks and months,” he said.
As the summer draws to an end, parents and teachers have been pushing the provincial government to provide an update on its plan for the new school year.
Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said Monday she was concerned about the revised measures.
“I’m very worried that inside the classroom, there is no physical distancing anymore and there are no masks,” she said, adding that teachers listening to Roberge’s news conference were expecting more from the government.
She said teachers are likely reaching out to their unions “to say they are not comfortable with the plan.”
Quebec remains the province with the highest number of cases and deaths attributed to the respiratory illness. As of Monday, authorities reported one new death, bringing the total to 5,696 deaths.
There has been 60,627 infections since the pandemic first began. The province recorded 98 new cases of COVID-19 Monday — the lowest daily number of cases since July.
“It’s the first time in the last month that our new daily cases are under 100,” said Dubé.
— With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher and the Canadian PressView link »