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Quebec high school teacher resigns over government’s COVID-19 guidelines

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: A former teacher West Island teacher is speaking out about the province’s back-to-school plan' Coronavirus: A former teacher West Island teacher is speaking out about the province’s back-to-school plan
WATCH: A West Island High School teacher says she was so dismayed by the province's back-to-school plan that she chose to resign rather than have to manage the stress of going back to class. Global’s Anne Leclair reports – Aug 25, 2020

After teaching for close to three decades, a Montreal-area high school teacher has decided to resign after learning about the province’s back-to-school plan, saying it will hardly protect her from contracting the coronavirus.

The Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) is disappointed the government has refused to make masks and social distancing mandatory in classrooms, leading to many of its 8,000 members to resign or retire early, as in the case of Sonia Barnes Huggins. 

“I would’ve liked to have seen the government care about the teachers and care about how they would re-enter the school,” said Huggins.

“It was a really tough decision to make, I made it very, very quickly.”

Read more: Parents, teachers, students protest Quebec’s back-to-school plans

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Mrs. Huggins, as she’s known to her students, is calling it quits after doing her dream job for the past 28 years, 20 of which were spent teaching art and dance at McDonald High School in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue.

Click to play video 'Quebec’s back-to-school plan leaves teachers with a lot of concerns' Quebec’s back-to-school plan leaves teachers with a lot of concerns
Quebec’s back-to-school plan leaves teachers with a lot of concerns – Aug 18, 2020

She was still a few years away from retirement and had build an award-winning dance program, her students received Candance awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018. But news on Aug. 10 that the government wouldn’t enforce the mask regulation in school classrooms didn’t sit well with Huggins, and ultimately pushed her to leave her permanent teaching position.

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“In dance, it would’ve been incredibly difficult this year. I mean, people breathe droplets from your mouth, with no mask I could just see it, inside with the windows open oh mother of goodness, very difficult,” said Huggins adding that most dance schools are currently doing virtual classes or classes while wearing face-coverings.

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“The risks far outweighed what I was prepared to go through, even with the support of my school and they’re wonderful,” she said.

Read more: Quebec doctors urge re-think of province’s back-to-school plan in open letter

Mrs. Huggins isn’t alone, according to the president of QPAT. Several members have left their jobs over the lack of protective measures in schools.

“We’re not happy with the idea that you know inside a class of 32 for example with very poor ventilation that there’s no distancing and masks aren’t needed,” said Heidi Yetman.

“I find it really, really sad that teachers are leaving prematurely in a profession that they love.”

Huggins is leaving with a heavy heart but feels blessed to have had the opportunity to touch thousands of lives over the last three decades. She’s a caregiver for her elderly mother who lives in a seniors home and has decided against putting her family’s health on the line for her job.

Sonia Barnes Huggins (on the right) and her mother
Sonia Barnes Huggins (on the right) and her mother. Provided by Sonia Barnes Huggins

“I can tell you as a Black Canadian, the studies that are coming out now about how Black people react to COVID are a bit scary,” said the mother of three grown children.

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“I have a mom who is 90-plus years old and I have to think about my family, my daughter is getting married next year. It’s about my family, it’s about my life and it just didn’t look good, not at all.”