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Montreal school boards take a staggered approach as senior grades return to class in red zones

Click to play video: 'Montreal high school students head back to class'
Montreal high school students head back to class
In Montreal, all students in senior grades in high school are returning to in-person learning after the province loosened restrictions for pandemic red zones. Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports – Mar 29, 2021

While the majority of senior-grade high school students in Quebec red zones returned to class full-time as of Monday, a number of school boards opted for a staggered approach.

Both the English Montreal and the Lester B. Pearson school boards will be welcoming students back to class in a systematic manner.

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Only secondary 3 students will be sitting at their desks for Montreal’s largest school board.

EMSB officials say scheduling conflicts and a short time frame made the return difficult and unsafe.

“We have various schools of various sizes, you can’t just have a one-size-fits-all approach.” EMSB chair Joe Ortona said.

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Ortona says allowing all schools to return to full capacity would be dangerous and risk not conforming with public health guidelines.

“We have to make sure this return to class as safely as possible and ensures the safety and security of students and staff,” Ortona said.

“Several hundred students all have recess at the same time. They are all getting from one class to the other all in our corridors. This has to be co-ordinated.”

The school board could not specify when secondary 4 and 5 students can return, only saying that the dates could vary from school to school.

All secondary 3 students for Lester B. Pearson schools will be back in class Wednesday, after returning from a two scheduled pedagogical days.

Secondary 4 and 5 will also be welcomed back but only at half capacity.

The school board says the transitional approach is meant to ease the return for students and staff.

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As COVID-19 case numbers across the province rise and more contagious variants become more prominent in the community, epidemiologist Chirstopher Labos voiced concerns about the timing of the return to in-class learning.

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“Maybe we need to a little bit more cautious about reopening schools at this point and really looking at the numbers adjusting the plan as necessary,” Labos said.

The decision to send high school students back to class comes after the government eased a number of COVID-19 restrictions last week.

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Premier François Legault said he was not considering reversing his decision even as he acknowledged that the province appeared to be at the beginning of a third wave.

Legault said the benefits of in-class learning outweigh the risks. It’s a balancing act that Labos says is teetering to the wrong side.

“With rising case numbers I think we have to be a little bit careful and realize the risk-benefit balance is starting to shift in the other direction,” Labos said.

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