Teachers, experts raise concerns about back-to-school plan

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative
Teachers, experts raise concerns about back-to-school plan

At a press conference on Jan. 5, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge reiterated the Legault government’s intention to resume in-person classes in all public primary, secondary and adult education schools on Jan. 17.

“With the work we’re doing and the precautions that will be taken, our schools are and will be safe,” Roberge said.

Roberge announced that more than 48,000 air quality readers (enough to outfit 54 per cent of the province’s public schools) were expected to be delivered by Jan. 7. He announced plans to distribute more than 7 million rapid tests to children in preschools and elementary schools by Jan. 24, scale up the distribution of surgical masks in schools and give teachers priority access to PCR tests. Although provincial public health authorities don’t recommend the use of air purifiers, Roberge says about 400 air exchangers, which circulate air from outdoors, have been installed in classrooms with problematic air quality readings.

However, considering the ongoing fifth wave of COVID cases driven by the Omicron variant, teachers and independent experts are skeptical of the ministerial plan.

“I don’t think we can open classes at this point,” says Nancy Delagrave, a physicist who is the scientific co-ordinator of the Collectif COVID-Stop, an independent Montreal-based collective of scientists, doctors and public health experts. “The hospitals are at breaking point.”

“I think they’re going to have to walk back [the Jan. 17 start date],” says Olivier Drouin, a computer scientist and parent who has been tracking data about COVID outbreaks in schools since early in the pandemic. “The virus is airborne, so addressing air quality is the only way to fight it, and we’re not giving ourselves the right tools.”
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