Students, teachers calling for McGill, Concordia to push back in-person start dates

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Concerns mount as students and teachers set to return to class in Quebec universities'
COVID-19: Concerns mount as students and teachers set to return to class in Quebec universities
WATCH: University students, teachers and teaching assistants are all expressing concerns about the looming return of in-person learning. McGill University wants to see people in class in just one week on Jan. 24, a move that's being sharply criticized. Global’s Dan Spector reports. – Jan 17, 2022

University students, teachers and teaching assistants are all expressing concerns about the looming return of in-person learning, and calling for it to be delayed.

McGill wants to see people in class as of January 24th, while Concordia has chosen Feb. 3rd for its return.  Both are being sharply criticized.

“I’m shocked that they made this choice,” said Claire Downie, VP University Affairs at the Students’ Society of McGill University.

Like many McGill students, she wants to go back, but thinks the school’s decision to bring back in-person learning for most classes under 200 people as of January 24th is premature.

“At a time when hospitalizations are surging, deaths are continuing to rise and most of the population doesn’t have any access to PCR testing, it seems reckless to open this quickly and under these conditions,” she said.

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Teachers are also apprehensive about the return.

“We have a lot of people who have health conditions, we have people who are profs who are elderly, we have people who are caring for under-fives who cannot be vaccinated, we have people caring for elderly parents,” said Renee Sieber, McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT) president-elect.

Sieber said teachers “hate teaching remotely,” and are desperate to return to class, but she feels it’s just too soon.

“If we stay home, we teach remotely then we’re doing our part to make sure that the hospital system does not crash,” said Sieber.

Meanwhile at the Teaching and Research Assistants Union at Concordia (TRAC) is hoping the school will push back its planned February 3rd return.

READ MORE: Facing staff shortages, Quebec asks public sector workers to help in health system

“There’s not really a clear guideline for contact tracing. I mean, it’s voluntary right now,” said TRAC VP Jonathan Llewellyn.

Neither school is providing N95 masks, something students and teachers want.

“Surgical masks unfortunately just aren’t going to cut it against omicron, especially when we’re talking about these very packed environments like a classroom with no distancing,” said Downie.

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In a statement to Global News, McGill sided with the government and its stance that surgical masks are good enough for use in schools.

A recent literature review by the INSPQ found that procedural masks offered protection against COVID. In real world conditions at work, there was no difference between the protection afforded by N95 masks and procedural masks,” said McGill spokesperson Claire Loewen.

She added that McGill has “an excellent track record in keeping our community safe,” and no outbreaks have ever happened in a classroom.

“The university has told me that they can’t find them in bulk, which sounds pretty reasonable to me because everybody must be looking for them in bulk,” said Sieber.

On Friday, two scientists including infectious diseases expert Dr. Christos Karatzios told Global News he advocates N95 masks in schools, as they provide stronger protection than surgical masks against COVID-19.

READ MORE: Push to delay return to school continues in Quebec amid COVID-19 safety concerns

“We are facing the same uncertainties and constraints as most sectors in society right now,” said Concordia spokesperson Vannina Maestracci. “In that context, we have tried to give as much clarity as we could by setting a three-week notice for a return to campus while following governmental directives.”

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The SSMU has ordered some N95s on its own.

“We’re planning to offer them to students who are especially vulnerable to COVID,” said Downie.

Sieber plans to wear N95s in the classroom and hopes her students will, too. She worries about those who can’t afford them.

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