Quebec is making masks mandatory in the classrooms of elementary and high schools in nine regions, including Montreal, as the province deals with a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced the latest measures of the back-to-school plan Tuesday, as the academic year begins this week for some students.
“It’s a measure that is preventive and prudent,” he told reporters.
The mask mandate will apply to students in Grade 1 and older in the Montreal, Centre-du-Québec, Estrie, Lanaudière, Laurentides, Laval, Mauricie, Montérégie and Outaouais regions. Students in the other regions will have to wear masks in common areas of school buildings and on school buses but not in classrooms.
Masks will also be required in all adult education schools and vocational training centres across the province. It is in line with the measures for universities and CEGEPs in Quebec.
It’s a change in tune from Quebec’s education ministry. In June, Roberge said masks would likely not be obligatory in class for the upcoming school year. Earlier this month, the province announced that students will have to wear masks on the bus and in hallways, but not in the classroom.
But last week the government tightened rules for universities and CEGEPs due to the fourth wave of the pandemic. Masks are mandatory in class for all post-secondary schools. At the time, Quebec Premier François Legault said the province was in discussions with public health authorities about implementing the same measure in elementary and high schools.
Roberge said Tuesday that many of the measures outlined earlier in the summer still stand. High school students will be in class full time and there will be no class bubbles.
The goal, he added, is to keep institutions safe amid an uptick in pandemic indicators and the presence of the Delta variant. The education minister described the latest rules as a precaution, saying he hopes they are temporary.
“We want to keep students in school,” Roberge said.
Rapid tests and protocols for positive cases
With tightened mask mandates, Quebec will also not shut down entire classrooms, as it did last year, if a student has COVID-19.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s director of public health, explained classes will only be closed in the case of major outbreaks.
“It won’t be at all the same situation we lived in previous waves,” Arruda said.
A student who has been in contact with COVID-19 but doesn’t test positive for it can go to school — but what happens next depends on where they are or if they are vaccinated.
In the nine regions where a mask is mandatory in class, students can continue going to school and participate in extracurricular activities.
In Quebec’s other regions — where the mask mandate only applies to hallways and school buses — there are different protocols.
Elementary school students who have been in contact with a case of COVID-19 will have to wear a mask for 10 days, but they cannot take part in extracurricular activities.
In high schools, fully vaccinated students will not need to isolate themselves or wear a mask. They can still take part in extracurricular activities. Those who are not vaccinated will have to wear a mask for 10 days and could participate in some activities. They are banned from extracurricular activities where a vaccine passport is required.
The province will also gradually implement the use of rapid tests in some schools where the epidemiological situations warrants it.
“I would prefer we get rid of COVID, of course, but I’m glad that we are well prepared,” Roberge said.
Vaccine passports for some extracurricular activities
Isabelle Charest, Quebec’s junior education minister, also addressed the plan to implement a COVID-19 vaccine passport system in high schools for extracurricular activities considered to be high risk.
This vaccine passport won’t apply to activities that are part of a school’s curriculum, she said.
Proof of vaccination will be required to participate in inter-school sports and for competitions in specialized sports-study programs.
Under the same plan, vaccination will be mandatory for physical and sports activities that take place inside. When it comes to outdoors, the passport will only be obligatory for extracurricular sports that include frequent or prolonged contact.
Meanwhile, extracurricular activities and physical activities will be permitted in primary schools. The Education Ministry notes it’s possible that students may have to opt out of certain events if they come into contact with COVID-19.
—with files from The Canadian PressView link »