Emergency protocol in place if coronavirus forces schools to close, Quebec education minister says

Click to play video 'Emergency protocols in place if coronavirus forces schools to close: Quebec education minister' Emergency protocols in place if coronavirus forces schools to close: Quebec education minister
WATCH: The province's education minister says COVID-19 emergency protocols are in place and schools across Quebec are ready for online learning, if necessary. Despite reassurances, some teachers’ groups question whether schools and teachers really are ready to learn remotely. Global’s Amanda Jelowicki reports – Sep 18, 2020

As the number of novel coronavirus cases surges in Quebec, the province’s education minister says an emergency protocol is now in place across the education network if the health crisis forces schools to close.

Jean-François Roberge said in a statement Friday all service centres in the province are ready in the event a school must shut down and move to online learning.

“Obviously, we want these protocols to be deployed as little as possible,” he said, adding Quebecers must follow public health directives to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in schools.

The plan comes as the government reported more than 500 cases across 272 schools on Friday.

The province says 189 classes in the private and public network have been shut down due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, to date.

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READ MORE: Quebec warns that schools could close in a region that becomes high risk

The latest statistics show 54 new infections and 25 additional schools with cases in Quebec compared to the previous day.

There are little details about the emergency protocol for schools, but the government says it has taken multiple factors into account, including providing services for students with disabilities and providing material to children to adapt to remote education.

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In the event of a school closure, the education ministry has 200,000 laptops and electronic devices on reserve.

The back-to-school plan currently allows only online learning options for students who have a medical exemption or for a novel coronavirus outbreak.

Roberge’s announcement comes as a Montreal high school has already temporarily shuttered and suspended in-class learning after 15 COVID-19 cases were reported.

An elementary school in Quebec City is also the site of a massive testing operation this week amid an outbreak of the virus.

Parents, teachers have questions about plan

The president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers questions whether Roberge’s assertion that schools are prepared for distance learning if necessary is true.

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Heidi Yetman said teachers only received three days of training in the event they have to take their classes online.

“My concern is teachers feeling overwhelmed by this brand new way of delivering curriculum and I am not sure they have the training that is necessary,” she said.

READ MORE: Quebec will not have to offer online learning to all students for now, court rules

While the government has laptops on reserve, Yetman said she is also worried that there will be many stumbling blocks ahead such as ensuring all students have access to online learning and providing proper support to teachers.

Caroline Phaneuf, the head of the English Montreal School Board’s parents committee, also has questions about the emergency protocol.

She said parents had a difficult time with remote education in the spring, during the height of the pandemic.

“I understand the minister says all schools are ready,” she said. “Whether they are actually ready remains to be seen.”

Click to play video 'Montreal-area high school forced to shut down to stem COVID-19 outbreak' Montreal-area high school forced to shut down to stem COVID-19 outbreak
Montreal-area high school forced to shut down to stem COVID-19 outbreak – Sep 17, 2020

With files from Global News’ Amanda Jelowicki