Students, parents ask Quebec to reverse back-to-school policy as EMSB defies government

Click to play video: 'Return to class concerns in Quebec' Return to class concerns in Quebec
WATCH: Return to class concerns in Quebec – Mar 25, 2021

Some Montreal-area high school students and parents are calling on the government to reverse its decision to resume in person classes for secondary 3, 4 and 5, even in red zones.

Amanda Parison is a secondary 5 student at St. Thomas High School in Pointe-Claire.

She’s gotten used to alternating between learning in a classroom, and learning from home. When she heard secondary 3, 4 and 5 would all be going back to class full-time as of Monday, she was upset.

“Pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that this is really scary and nobody wants it,” Parison told Global News.

Caterina Tutino is in secondary 4 at Laval Senior Academy.

“I’m very nervous to go back to class full-time,” she told Global News. “I feel like this is a big mistake from the government.”

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“The variant is here. It is spreading. It is more contagious,” said Caterina’s mother Maria Gurreri. “It is more dangerous. I don’t think it’s a very good idea at this point of the game to send everybody back.”

Read more: Quebec teachers’ unions call for vaccines as high school students set to return to class full time

Gurreri wonders why students are being asked to return when the current model is working, and just over two months of classes remain before the summer break.

Both schools have more than 1,000 students. With all of them there in person, some say social distancing will be nearly impossible.

“There are crammed-up hallways, crammed-up cafeteria and bathrooms — it is very difficult to social distance. There will be 30 kids per class, making it very hard,” said Gurreri.

“There’s no distancing whatsoever. The risk of catching the virus, spreading it to teachers who don’t have the vaccines right now, spreading it to your family members, your grandparents, it’s really scary,” said Parison.

Teachers are also upset because they were not consulted and are not being prioritized for vaccination.

It was a complete shock. Of course, it was just another slap in the face from the government.  That’s really, I think, what teachers feel. They’ve just been punching bag throughout this whole pandemic,” said Stephanie McLellan, the President of the Laurier Teachers’ Union, the union representing teachers at the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board, including Laval Senior Academy.

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Read more: Quebec high schools resume full-time, in-person learning on Monday, even in red zones

On Thursday, the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA) called on Premier François Legault to prioritize vaccinations for all school staff, and to permit certain schools to implement staggered openings.

“One size can’t fit all in a situation like the one we are in. Some of our boards are already back at full capacity in yellow zones and that is working well. Red and orange zone school boards should have had a two-week notification period to plan for a staggered re-entry and in-school staff vaccinations,” QESBA president Dan Lamoureux said in a press release.

“It just baffles me. Directives need to be made in consultation with the education network by providing flexibility and sufficient time for their implementation,” said Paolo Galati. His board also called on the government to prioritize vaccination of staff at educational institutions.

Even without government permission, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) announced Thursday it would implement a staggered return for secondary 3, 4 and 5 students. Only secondary 3 students will return to class full-time on Monday.

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“We will be working diligently to prepare for a safe return of our students in Secondary IV  and V. A communication with more details will be sent next week once we feel we are ready to welcome everyone back safely. Please rest assured that the safety and well-being of our students, staff, and community remains our top priority,” EMSB Interim Director General Russell Copeman said in a press release.

Read more: Suspected coronavirus variant cases force some Quebec schools to shut down

Quebec’s public health director Horacio Arruda said earlier this week that going back to school is a worthwhile risk in order to help students mental health and academic performance. Students who spoke to Global News, however, felt their mental health is being negatively affected by the idea of returning.

“Everyone I’ve talked to said that it was more deteriorating to our mental health and it’s going to hurt it,” said Amanda Parison.

“I’m more anxious going back than having to stay at home,” said Caterina Tutino. Her mother Maria Gurreri is urging the government to reverse the decision.

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“This full-time return is important for the academic success of our young people. Let’s be clear: we remain cautious. Regional public health authorities have adopted a more aggressive approach when a case is detected,” said the spokesperson, Jean-François Del Torchio.

He said the government will continue to follow expert recommendations, and that an aggressive approach is being taken concerning the variants.

Click to play video: 'Parents of children at EMSB school in Côte Saint-Luc want to be included in COVID-19 vaccination pilot project' Parents of children at EMSB school in Côte Saint-Luc want to be included in COVID-19 vaccination pilot project
Parents of children at EMSB school in Côte Saint-Luc want to be included in COVID-19 vaccination pilot project – Mar 23, 2021

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