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School’s in: reactions range from satisfaction to concern

In a few days’ time, thousands of schoolchildren and teachers will be on their way to school. The start of a new school year under a sign of general confusion. The Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, recently announced “the ABCs of a safe and successful back-to-school season,” which includes, among other things, mandatory masks outside of classrooms from Grade 5, while eliminating social distancing requirements in the classroom. As such, we are being told to envisage an ‘almost’ normal return to class.

“Fear of the virus remains,” explains a secondary school teacher from the Centre de services scolaire de la Vallée-des-Tisserands (CSSVT) who notes that even if the basic instructions are clear, a number of questions about the daily application of these measures remain.

“If you’re the parent of a teenager, you know how difficult it can be to enforce basic instructions,” she explains. At the elementary level, another teacher says she is “reassured” that she doesn’t have to make her kindergarten students wear masks all day long. “Frankly, a lot of people would have protested if the minister had tried to enforce this,” she says, suggesting it’s easier to convince 10- and 11-year-olds of the purpose behind these measures as they are more mature than their younger schoolmates.

 

Starting next week, students across the province will be catching school buses and returning to class, with the safety measures they will be asked to take varying depending on their ages. PHOTO Sarah Rennie

 

Parents are also reassured. One mother, who teaches for the New Frontiers School Board and whose 10-year-old attends a local francophone school, feels the instructions listed are logical, even though she would have preferred that masks be voluntary to the age of 12, as has been recommended until now. “When my daughter accompanies me to the grocery store, she doesn’t wear a mask. Now she’ll have to get used to it.” For the young mother, who has a health condition, it’s still a good idea. “Scientists can’t agree, so the government chose to be cautious, which is good,” she concludes.

For the high school teacher, masks have nothing to do with public health. “For me, it’s conditioning. We want young people to obey, to be afraid. All summer long, we’ve been scared by the media reporting on parties, or stories of teenagers not respecting the rules,” says the math teacher. “I think it’s partly untrue, because I know a lot of young people who are very respectful [of the rules], even lecturing their parents,” she says.

Case management

Some parents remain concerned, especially in terms of managing possible outbreaks.
For the mother whose health is fragile, a case of COVID-19 in her daughter’s classroom could have dramatic consequences for her family life: quarantine, fear of catching the virus and ending up in hospital.

“The management of possible cases of COVID in schools is a bit unclear,” says the CSSVT kindergarten teacher. “Basically, it depends on a lot of factors. Did the child or adult experience any symptoms in the classroom? Has the child or adult been in close contact with other people? Does the class or the whole school shut down?”

In the spring, there was little transmission in the schools and childcare centres, but that’s partly because so few students were present. “If the schools are running at full capacity, there are going to be cases,” sighs the teacher.

Any emergency shutdown (within 24 hours) will have a direct impact on families. Parents will have to stay at home, go back to working from home (if possible!) and home-school using virtual tools. For example, last spring the CSSVT made several online educational resources available so that children could continue to learn.

Will we experience a series of local confinements? “If we have to shut everything down every time a case is diagnosed, it’s going to be hell,” says the high school teacher.

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