Education ­Minister Roberge ­announces plan to reopen schools in the fall

By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Students will once again sit in classrooms face-to-face with teachers and surrounded by fellow classmates come fall 2020, albeit under unusual guidelines.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge revealed the Quebec government’s plan in Montreal on Tuesday morning. He announced that all preschools, elementary schools and high schools will reopen at the end of August.
Students are required to attend in-person classes unless they have a valid medical reason for continuing at-home education. Classrooms with students aged six to 16 years old will require some tinkering and creativity.
Roberge said that in these classrooms students will be divided into subgroups, or bubbles, made up of six students or less. They will be like family members, according to the minister. These students will not be required to follow physical distancing rules.
However, subgroups will be required to keep a one-metre distance from other subgroups. And each subgroup will keep a two-metre distance from teachers. After class, students remain seated, while teachers move on to another room.
“I think that with what we experienced this winter, it’s a great jump forward and the motivation of teachers and students is going to go up,” said Roberge.
Grade 10 and 11 students will, however, face a different reality, as their schedules are a bit more complex, he explained. Option courses make it difficult to keep older high school students in the same groups and classrooms.
“It is an issue that prevents us from being able to say all students from preschool to secondary five will go to school every day 100 per cent,” Roberge said.
In order to accommodate these students, he recommends that schools try to restructure option courses or place students in different groups and alternate days in the classroom. Online learning would round out the rest of their schedules.
When discussing higher education, the Quebec government wants to continue towards a hybrid model. Roberge stressed the importance of creating an immersive environment for cegep and university students.
“We know that our campus life, seeing your friends, students seeing their professors, that is part of the experience in higher learning and everybody is mobilized to maximize the presence on campus while respecting the health and safety measures,” Roberge said.
But as they roll out their plan to reopen schools, the Ministry of Education and the Quebec government are aware they dropped the ball at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Roberge also announced measures for a plan B, in case there is another surge in COVID-19 cases. People are worried about a second wave of infections in the fall, he said, so they want to be prepared this time.
“We suppose that it will hit us, but we don’t know when or how it will be, so the ministry will table what we call emergency protocols to be ready to face the possibility of a second wave,” he said.
These emergency protocols will be enforced throughout the entire education network. If another outbreak occurs in the fall, the Quebec government has plans to quickly distribute necessary electronic equipment to students and teachers.
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