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Quebec parents worried about online learning as students leave classrooms for Christmas

40.2% of all public and private schools in Quebec are currently dealing with at least one active case.
Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Quebec parents and teachers bracing for online learning' Coronavirus: Quebec parents and teachers bracing for online learning
WATCH: Wednesday is the last day of in-person classes for Quebec elementary and high school students. The holiday plan proposed by the government includes of online learning before and after the Christmas break in an attempt to decrease the transmission of COVID-19. But as Benson Cook reports, not all students and families are equipped with the tools to learn online – Dec 16, 2020

The Education Ministry’s latest update on COVID-19 cases in schools presents a sobering reality: 40.2 per cent of all public and private schools in Quebec are currently dealing with at least one active case.

To try and stem the tide, starting Thursday all grade-school students will now be learning online for several days both before and after winter vacation.

Last-minute changes to that plan announced earlier this week caught many educators by surprise. Until Tuesday, elementary school students were set to return to in-person learning on Jan. 4, but now they will return to the classroom on the same day as high school students, on Jan. 11.

“If this decision was made in November, we could’ve been a bit more prepared, parents could have been a bit more prepared,” said Heidi Yetman, the president of the Quebec Provincial Teachers Association.

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Read more: Coronavirus: Quebec to start testing air quality in schools next week

Unlike high schools, many elementary schools still don’t have the technology to allow for a full online school day for every student. Instead, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge is mandating only ‘daily contact’ between elementary school teachers and their students.

In a statement, the Lester B. Pearson School Board confirmed that what that ‘daily contact’ looks like is ultimately up to individual teachers.

“It is our teachers, with support from our Educational Services Department, who have had to adapt their teaching to this new reality,” a spokesperson for the board said.

It’s a situation parents worry will only widen inequities that already exist in the education system.

“It seems like a lottery, and you know what? Public education shouldn’t be a lottery. It should be that every child has the same, equal opportunity to learn,” Katherine Korakakis, the English Parents Committee Association’s president, told Global News.

Premier François Legault says the decision to keep students out of the classroom for any amount of time isn’t any easy one, but the government’s hand was forced by the pandemic’s second wave.

“I think we all together have to make efforts to curve the contagion,” he told reporters during an economic announcement Wednesday morning.

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“We need to ask them these efforts. I understand parents will have to ask for a leave of absence in certain cases . I understand its not an ideal situation. We need for two weeks to close.”

Read more: Online learning spurred by pandemic takes toll on university students and teachers in Montreal

But parents say the situation is not just inconvenient: it’s also threatening their children’s education.

“We know that kids are already behind, and that extra week is just going to make the gap bigger and bigger,” Korakakis warned.

Both parents and teachers agree that the government should do everything it can to keep online-learning arrangements from being extended further into 2021.

Westwood Senior High School teacher Catherine Hogan said helping students one-on-one in a classroom setting is important.

“It’s easier also for us to make sure they’re doing okay, not just academically, but emotionally, having them here”, she said.

Teachers say if online learning does end up being extended beyond its scheduled conclusion early in the new year, they need more notice so they can prepare. Otherwise, they warn, students will fall behind.

“We found out half an hour before it was announced,” Yetman said of this week’s change to holiday distance-learning arrangements.

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“So it’s day by day and we’re getting used to it, because it’s been like this since March, and I don’t even think the minister of education knows.”

Click to play video: 'The added stress of COVID-19 is taking its toll on Quebec teachers' The added stress of COVID-19 is taking its toll on Quebec teachers
The added stress of COVID-19 is taking its toll on Quebec teachers – Nov 17, 2020

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