Masks play larger role in Quebec’s ­return-to-school plan

By Michael Boriero – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter and Gordon Lambie

The provincial government ditched its previously stated plan to institute a six-person bubble policy in classrooms across the province, instead opting to make masks mandatory in all common areas and hallways for students in Grade 5 and higher.
Masks, however, will be optional once a student is seated in a classroom in order to facilitate a more positive learning environment, according to Education Minister Jean-François Roberge.
Roberge detailed the government’s new plan of action for schools during a press conference Monday afternoon alongside Health Minister Christian Dubé and Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health.
The announcement comes as parents continue to express concerns about allowing their children back into schools. Roberge said there is no guarantee of eliminating the threat of the coronavirus, but reopening schools is better for a students’ long-term health.
“The information we have for the COVID-19 pandemic reassured us that kids most of the time don’t get sick and don’t spread it,” he said. “We are really aware of the risk of not opening schools.”
Rather than isolating groups into small bubbles, the term now extends to an entire classroom. Masks are also optional for teachers when they begin their lessons in order to preserve face-to-face interactions. But they will have to maintain distance from students.
Students from the same classroom can remove their masks when they are in the cafeteria but must cover their faces and maintain a physical distance when in the vicinity of people from other classroom bubbles.
Parents and other guardians visiting a school must always wear a mask, unless they are attending a performance or presentation in an auditorium, where they can remove their masks and respect a two-metre distance.
The government is also making masks mandatory for students on school buses and public transportation. Roberge added that schools would need to provide remote learning options for students more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“If somebody in the family at the same address has a vulnerability to covid, they will have the right to have distance learning provided by the school,” he added. Students need to provide a medical note.
The regular health and safety measures, including washing hands and disinfecting classrooms, still apply to students, faculty and staff. Roberge also said the government plans to be as transparent as possible.
If there is a positive COVID-19 case in a classroom, or anywhere throughout the school, parents will be notified by the administration. He said the government has nothing to hide.
Eastern Townships School Board Chairman Michael Murray told The Record that he found Roberge’s announcement lacking.
“We still haven’t resolved the fundamental issues about school organization that are simply being tossed in the laps of schools,” Murray said arguing that major issues like how to manage bus transportation or contact tracing are being totally ignored or pushed onto other administrative bodies.
The school board chairman also said that the board feels the plan puts too much of a burden on teachers.
“We don’t think it’s sustainable, we think teachers are going to burn out and get sick not necessarily with COVID, but just from exhaustion and trying to do a good job.”
As teachers get sick and need to be replaced, he questioned how the schools are supposed to keep supply teachers, who often go from school to school, from being a vector for infection.
“The questions multiply, and the plan doesn’t address any of them,” Murray said.

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