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Quebec temporarily halts publishing COVID-19 school data as it ‘adjusts’ system

Students line up outside a Montreal school on Aug. 27, 2020. It is the first day back for many children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students line up outside a Montreal school on Aug. 27, 2020. It is the first day back for many children amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Anne Leclair/Global News

The Quebec government is temporarily suspending publishing its list of daily COVID-19 counts in schools.

A notice on its website says the school data acquisition system is “being adjusted.”

It was put in place just a week ago after criticism was levelled at officials over a perceived lack of transparency about the progression of the virus in schools as a new year got underway.

Read more: (Sept. 8, 2020) 118 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Quebec schools, education minister says

The government, however, said communication between school officials and parents will continue.

“In case of a positive test result, all school parents systematically receive a notice from the school principal, and schools are working hand-in-hand with regional public health authorities,” the notice reads.

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On Tuesday, Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge was reporting 118 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in schools since the start of the school year.

Read more: Quebec teachers’ union goes to court to demand rapid COVID-19 testing

He said 70 schools had seen cases of COVID-19, and that 50 other schools were in the process of being verified.

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In contrast, on Friday, the COVID Ecoles Quebec website was listing 226 schools with at least one positive case of COVID-19.

The website was started by Olivier Drouin, a Montreal father, who said he was frustrated by the lack of government data.

Members of the public can report positive cases to the website anonymously. Drouin said he verifies each case before posting and asks for the official school letter sent to parents when a case is signalled to him.

Read more: Quebec to allow interscholastic sports to resume with restrictions next week

Meanwhile, Roberge announced Friday that extracurricular programs including interscholastic sports will be allowed to resume in schools as of Monday.

He said the situation was generally “under control” despite some “little glitches.”

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“It’s not perfect all around Quebec, but each day we are getting better and better,” he said.

While answering reporters’ questions, Roberge admitted there had been issues with the list.

He said schools were responsible for collecting the information and then notifying the government which then does its own verification. This leads to certain delays, Roberge explained.

“We want to be sure that when we go public with a list, all the information are really right and reviewed at our convenience, at our satisfaction,” he said.

It’s not clear when the government will resume publishing school data on its website, but Roberge said it should be “within the next days.”

— With files from Global’s Benson Cook and The Candian Press