In less than two weeks Quebec children will enter the classroom with a sense of normalcy for the first time in three years. There are no mandatory public health measures in place to tackle COVID. Some worry low vaccination rates, a lack of ventilation and no masking could mean an unpleasant surprise this fall.
“I think most of us are looking forward to getting back to what will hopefully be a full and safe school year,” said St. Monica Elementary Principal Peter McKelvie.
Quebec’s education minister says schools are prepared for a successful return. The ministry says air quality readers were installed in every Quebec classroom, but Covid Ecoles Quebec Founder Olivier Drouin isn’t satisfied the ministry has done enough.
“Only about 1,500 of them or 1,400 of them have air exchangers. so that’s less than two per cent of the total number of classes,” he told Global News.
Drouin says CO2 detectors only measure the size of the problem. Instead, he says the government should reconsider purchasing air purifiers to keep COVID from spreading.
“(There was) two to three times less number of outbreaks in the schools with purifiers versus no purifiers,” said Drouin
MUHC Pediatric and Infectious Diseases Division Director Dr. Earl Rubin says the conditions in schools this fall are favourable to COVID-19.
“Not to be a debbie downer, but if it gets introduced into the classroom, it’s likely that it will spread,” he said.
Dr. Rubin says the lack of vaccine protection in students could balance out with children who have some degree of immunity. While masks aren’t mandatory, he says to prepare for that to change.
“I think that if there is a new variant and there are big outbreaks, I think it should change,” he said.
Montreal’s English language school boards such as the English Montreal School Board, the Lester B. Pearson School Board and the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board say if students want to wear a mask, they’ll respect that.
“Our highest priority, as always, is to ensure the health and safety of all our students and staff,” said Sir Wilfred Laurier School Board chairperson Paolo Galati.
English and French schools are short-staffed. The education ministry says 700 employees are missing, and Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers President Heidi Yetman argues that number may be lower than the reality.
“I think the biggest issue with shortage is we don’t have enough teachers to replace teachers that are on maternity leave or on sick leave,” said Yetman.
As time ticks down, Yetman says teachers have mixed emotions as they prepare for school bells to ring again.