Quebec parents scrambling to figure out how to safely send their children back to school

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One Montreal-area mother is wondering how she'll be able to keep her elderly mother safe while sending her daughters back to school. – Aug 12, 2020

Nathalie Constantine is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

When Quebec announced its updated back-to-school plan this week, the education minister promised that students who needed to stay home for medical reasons would have access to online learning.

Read more: Swift reaction from Quebec parents, students to province’s back-to-school plan

But Constantine told Global News she’s having trouble getting a doctor to sign off on a medical exemption. Her teenage daughters are set to go back to school, but she’s also a caregiver to her mother, “who is high risk for COVID-19 because she has congestive heart failure.”

She doesn’t want the girls to return to school because she said she’s worried they could bring the virus home to their grandmother. Constantine said that when she tried to get a medical exemption note from her mother’s cardiologist at the Jewish General Hospital so that the girls could do distance learning from home, she was denied.

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“I’m sorry, the doctor is uncomfortable, quote unquote, to sign,” she quoted a hospital worker as saying.

On its website the provincial government lists COVID-19 patients with a weak immune system, with a chronic disease such as diabetes or heart, lung and kidney disease, or who are age 70 and older as most likely to die from the coronavirus.

Read more: Quebec students Grade 5 and up will have to wear masks in school hallways but not classrooms

Constantine feels trapped.

“It puts me between a rock and a hard place, so to speak, because my daughters need to be educated,” she said.

Patient advocate Paul Brunet said people who are simply afraid of catching the virus should not get an exemption but agrees there are people who need it.

“There is no reason why you cannot ask if, objectively, there is a risk situation, of course,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Will Quebec’s students be safe heading back to school?' Will Quebec’s students be safe heading back to school?
Will Quebec’s students be safe heading back to school? – Aug 12, 2020

According to the Quebec government’s COVID-19 back-to-school plan, all students must return to school, and those with health conditions that make them vulnerable can get a medical exemption.

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It also says “students living in the same household as a close family member who has a health condition that makes that person vulnerable, may also be exempt.” A doctor’s note is needed.

The Quebec College of Physicians states on its website that it’s up to each doctor to use their clinical judgement in deciding whether or not to give a medical certificate.

In a statement to Global News, the Jewish General Hospital said: “We do not treat children at the Jewish General Hospital. Nor do we comment on specific cases, because of confidentiality.”

Constantine said she’ll keep trying. She claimed that she’s been attempting to reach her family doctor to get a note, but that she hasn’t been able to get through yet.

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