Sarah Rennie and Nadia Geukjian
Despite announcing an additional 84 deaths due to COVID-19 complications and an increase of 875 confirmed cases across the province, Premier François Legault announced on Monday that daycares and elementary schools will be opening on May 11 outside of the Greater Montreal region and on May 19 on the island and surrounding municipalities.
For parents in the Valley, the actual start date is still unclear as the New Frontiers School Board is based in Chateauguay and the Commission Scolaire de la Vallée-des-Tisserandes in Beauharnois and both municipalities are considered to be part of the Greater Montreal region. “It is still very unclear with the 11th and the 19th and what is considered greater Montreal,” says NFSB Director General Rob Buttars, who admits he is hoping for more clarity from the Ministry of Education tomorrow morning. Claire IsaBelle has suggested that schools in the Huntingdon County riding will be opened on May 11.
There are a number of measures schools will have to put in place before welcoming students in two or three weeks. Namely, all students will be expected to maintain social distancing of two metres, there will be a maximum of 15 students per classroom, and students exhibiting any sort of symptoms will be required to stay home for 14 days. Teachers and staff above the age of 60, as well as students with an elevated risk of getting sick, should not return to school. Both Legault and Education Minister Jean-François Roberge reiterated that attendance was not mandatory and that parents would not be penalized should they decide to keep their children at home.
Secondary schools, CEGEPs, and universities will remain closed until September, and students will be expected to continue their schoolwork from home. “A teenager at home must continue their schooling, and their parents must accompany them in that,” said Roberge, who noted that parents would be receiving invitations from schools as of May 4 to return to schools to collect educational materials for their children.
Legault said there were five reasons to open schools and daycares at this time. The first revolved around the well-being of children, especially those with learning difficulties; the second considered the belief that the risk of children suffering complications from COVID-19 is limited; the third reason focused on the situation in hospitals, which is currently considered to be under control; the fourth reason is that this plan has the support of public health authorities; and finally, the fifth reason is that life has to continue. As such, he said, schools would be reopening for social reasons, and that they would be readjusting their strategy depending on the evolution of the situation.
Parents are being asked to inform their schools or daycare centres during the week prior to May 11 (or the 19) if they intend to send their children to allow centres and schools to adapt accordingly. A maximum of 24 students will be imposed on buses, which will be outfitted with physical barriers between drivers and students.
Daycares will also likely open on May 11 in the region. The emergency daycares now in place will be maintained and will be expanded to allow teachers and those who work in the educational network to access childcare in order to prepare schools to reopen. Early-childhood educators will be asked to wear masks during certain tasks, as it is understood that social distancing will be very difficult in these settings. Parents are also able to decide whether to send their children to CPEs and daycare centres without having to be concerned about penalty. Spots will be guaranteed until September, and parents will not be expected to pay for days their children do not attend.
In the Montérégie region, the number of cases continues to increase. There are now 2,879 confirmed cases, including 16 cases in the Haut-Saint-Laurent Local Health Network (LHN), 144 in the Suroît LHN, 284 in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges LHN, and 420 in the Jardins-Roussillon LHN.
During his daily address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that, as of this morning, businesses who have lost revenue because of COVID-19 can apply for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, which covers 75% of wages, up to $847 per week per employee for 3 months. The application portal can be accessed on canada.ca and the benefit will be paid through the Canada Revenue Agency. As of the time of the prime minister’s briefing, 10,000 businesses had applied. Trudeau did say, however, that employees who are already receiving the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) cannot receive both. “It is one or the other. If you get both, one will have to be paid back.” This benefit aims to keep employees on the payroll and make it easier for employers to rehire those who were laid off.
Trudeau again cautioned everyone to respect guidelines and recommendations from public health experts. “We must not lose all progress.” The prime minister said the government is working to develop shared guidelines across the country for opening up, but ultimately, it is up to the provinces when and how they will proceed. “We want people to be very careful about reopening the economy. We have to do it right.”