Quebec elementary schools are set to reopen on Monday after a nearly three-week hiatus to help curb the spread of COVID-19 during the holidays.
Some feel the move to allow children and teachers to gather in classrooms again is still too early as coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket in the province.
“We really believe that schools should remain closed for at least a week to see how the numbers react to these new guidelines,” said Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) President Heidi Yetman.
A curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. and a lockdown is in effect for non-essential business in Quebec, but schools are still expected to show up to class on Monday despite the few changes to sanitary measures.
“We feel like we’re yelling in the void and it’s been hard on teachers. This has been a really difficult year. And I’m really worried about the mental state of teachers right now and what we’re doing to their to their mental state,” said Yetman.
With over 2,500 COVID-19 cases reported in the province on Saturday, parents are feeling torn about sending their children to school.
“Just because you’re choosing to send your school doesn’t mean you love your children any less,” said Quebec’s English Parents’ Committee Association (EPCA) president Katherine Korakakis. “It’s a difficult time, everybody’s situation is different.”
According to a survey conducted by EPCA, more than half of Quebec anglophone parents are afraid of sending their children back to school.
“Parents are thinking they feel like they have to pick between the safety of their children and education and not thinking it’s a fair thing, to the other spectrum of parents saying look I work full time I have to be out of the house my children need to be in school,” said Korakakis.
But not all parents and teachers are worried. About 37 per cent of parents who answered EPCA’s poll said they feel comfortable with their children heading back to in-class learning.
One kindergarten teacher said the return to school is less worrying than most public tasks.
“Last year when we went back in may, I was very anxious with all the sanitary measures to enforce and what not,” said Dina Henriques, a kindergarten teacher in Gatineau. “After living with those measures in the classroom, I see that we are one of the places when they are the more respected. It’s reassuring for me. I feel more safe in my classroom that doing my groceries.”
Medical experts warn lunch-time and recess could create an environment for the virus to quickly spread.
“If children are eating communally, if they’re not distanced properly they’re high-risk because they’re taking off their mask to eat. You want to come up with creative ways to change that pattern,” said Global News’ Medical Specialist Dr. Mitch Shulman.
QPAT asked Quebec for portable air filtration systems for its classrooms but the government won’t budge.
“We don’t recommend those filtration devices, first, because it has not been demonstrated clearly that it’s efficient to limit transmission,” said Quebec Public Health Strategic Medical Adviser Dr. Richard Massé during Friday’s press conference.
Massé said that if air purifiers are poorly installed they can spread droplets and create a false sense of security.
Some experts, like Dr. Shulman, disagree.
“Air purification studies out of Harvard and Yale have shown that it does improve the environment so if they can get air purification they should,” he said.
Shulman also suggests spit-testing in schools for asymptomatic children and teachers would be an important step to help stop the spread of the virus.
Sonia Ethier, the president of the Centrale des syndicats du Quebec, told reporters Sunday that air quality in schools is a particularly important issue and that the arguments made by public health against the installation of air purifiers aren’t convincing.
She says it’s also not unheard of for the province to backpedal on public health recommendations, noting authorities once suggested residents didn’t need to wear masks in the spring before later making them mandatory in schools.
Some school boards in Quebec, including the English Montreal School Board, have purchased air purifiers independently.
–with files from the Canadian Press