As Quebec kids head back to school, Legault calls reopening ‘a calculated risk’

Click to play video 'Elementary students head back to school across Quebec as coronavirus surges' Elementary students head back to school across Quebec as coronavirus surges
WATCH: In Quebec, elementary schools are reopening Monday as planned despite a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations. Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports – Jan 11, 2021

Children headed back to class Monday as elementary schools reopen across Quebec while parts of the province remain on lockdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Young students took part in online learning last week as all schools remained physically closed in a bid to curb the growing spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Last week, the province unveiled extended restrictions and a nightly curfew amid a surge of cases, deaths and hospitalizations. Quebec has reported an average of 2,549 new infections daily over the past week.

As part of the tightened measures, high schools and adult education will continue online learning this week. Teenagers and adults will only head back to class on Jan. 18 after the start was delayed by one week.

Elementary schools, however, are reopening Monday as previously announced before the winter break — which has prompted mixed reactions from teachers and parents. Premier François Legault has vowed to keep schools open despite imposing a provincewide curfew until Feb. 8 to reduce community spread of the virus.

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READ MORE: West Island family who received curfew tickets argue they should’ve been considered exceptions

On Monday, Legault reiterated his choice, saying that he believes the disadvantages of keeping schools closed outweigh the benefits — but that doesn’t mean it is a risk-free decision.

“It’s a calculated risk and I accept that choice,” he said.

Matt Wilson, a spokesperson for the Lester B. Pearson Teachers’ Union, says most teachers would prefer to continue with online learning amid the pandemic surge.

“Virtually all teachers are upset and discouraged to be sent back to schools in person with no additional safety measures to account for rising caseloads,” he said.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Quebec premier says return to school a ‘calculated risk’' Coronavirus: Quebec premier says return to school a ‘calculated risk’
Coronavirus: Quebec premier says return to school a ‘calculated risk’ – Jan 11, 2021

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge has also defended the decision to keep schools open, saying there was a “fairly strong consensus” in the province to reopen schools as quickly as possible after the winter break because of their importance to children’s overall well-being.

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The reopening also brings some new public health measures to elementary schools. Masks are now mandatory in the classroom for Grade 5 and 6 students. Younger students must wear masks in common areas, including hallways and school buses.

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The province has also cancelled ministerial exams and pushed back the first report card of the year.

‘Online learning was really tough’

Fred Funkel, whose daughter attends Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in Montreal, welcomes having his the return o school.

“The online learning was really tough, especially with me working,” Funkel said.

Alain Goulet, another parent at the school, said online learning was a good option for his daughter but that it is a lot of work for teachers.

“We’re a little worried but we know she is going to be careful, keep her distance and keep her mask on,” he said.

READ MORE: Here’s how Quebec’s latest lockdown rules and nightly curfew will work

Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School has 26 new air purifiers — which several school boards have purchased and installed in recent months to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s an added sense of security. We are following all the guidelines but it’s definitely good to have,” said principal Tanya Alvares.

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Last week, the province announced that a panel of experts convened to study ventilation in schools and said they had advised against installing air purifiers in classrooms.

However, one of Quebec’s largest teachers’ unions has urged Roberge not to rule out purifiers. The Centrale des syndicats du Quebec argues 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.

Click to play video 'Schools in parts of Canada resume in-person learning' Schools in parts of Canada resume in-person learning
Schools in parts of Canada resume in-person learning – Jan 11, 2021

with files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press