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English schools in Montreal welcome back students amid COVID-19 crisis

Click to play video 'English Quebecers head back to school amid COVID-19' English Quebecers head back to school amid COVID-19
In Montreal, students at English schools are heading back to class for the first time in months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports.

The new normal can be a bit nerve wracking for parents, teachers and students alike as classes begin in Montreal, where schools were closed for nearly five months to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Paula Arreagada, whose daughter is in Grade 3 at Bancroft Elementary School, is confident. She says communication will be key as the school year starts in the shadow of the pandemic.

“We as parents are always worried but the school will take the good precautions,” she said.

Masks, personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer are regular fixtures in Quebec schools as students in both the English and French systems head back to class.

READ MORE: Virtual School to begin next week for EMSB students with medical exemptions

Quebec’s largest English-language school board is one of many welcoming students back Monday. Marlene Jennings, the trustee of the English Montreal School Board, said the schools are regularly in touch with parents.

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“The best avenue that the experts are telling us is, yes, students should go back to school,” she said. “They should go back to class ensure they have a safe and healthy environment.”

Click to play video 'Quebec’s English-language students head back to school' Quebec’s English-language students head back to school
Quebec’s English-language students head back to school

Under the COVID-19 guidelines, students who are in Grade 5 and above will have to wear masks in common areas and school buses. They will not be mandatory in the classroom, however.

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The EMSB is permitting students to take the bus to school, but health and safety guidelines only permit 44 students per school bus instead of the typical 72. The board also asks for parents to drive or walk their children to school if they can.

In a newsletter to parents, the board says it has ordered medical equipment such as masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant in “large quantities” for students.

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“This is a whole new level of hygiene,” said Jennings. “Our kids are so smart.”

READ MORE: Extracurricular activities could resume in Quebec schools in two weeks, Legault says

Cheryl Wiltzer, a school psychologist with the EMSB, said she is optimistic about the upcoming school year — even if it is different than what students usually experience.

“I think it will be wonderful to get them back to seeing their friends and getting into a routine and predictability in their life again,” she said.

Other English school boards, including Lester B. Pearson, Eastern Townships and Riverside, are also reopening their schools this week.

Positive cases at school north of Montreal

Meanwhile, a French-language school board said late Sunday two more teachers at a high school north of Montreal tested positive for COVID-19.

Four teachers at Polyvalente Deux-Montagnes have now tested positive after classes resumed last week, the school board, the Centre de services scolaire de la Seigneurie-des-Mille-Iles, said in a statement.

About 20 other staff members who were in contact with those cases were placed in isolation as a precaution.

The board said some students were also put in isolation, but it did not say how many. It added that most Grade 10 and 11 students who were sent home last week due to the outbreak were back in school Monday.

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Click to play video 'Montreal parent pulls plug on back to school as COVID-19 concerns mount' Montreal parent pulls plug on back to school as COVID-19 concerns mount
Montreal parent pulls plug on back to school as COVID-19 concerns mount

With files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and the Canadian Press