Quebec set to announce progressive return to class for students

MONTREAL—Quebec will present its plan to get kids back to school and daycare on Monday, outlining the first part of the province’s timeline for getting activities and businesses up and running again.

Premier François Legault has said he expected outlying regions of the province less impacted by COVID-19 to be the first to resume activities and parents wouldn’t be obliged to send their kids back to school.

The province reported 69 new deaths linked to COVID-19 on Sunday — the lowest total in nearly a week — bringing the total number of deaths to 1,515.

About 80 per cent of those deaths have taken place in long-term care and seniors’ residences.

The province also reported 24,107 confirmed cases — an additional 840 cases compared to Saturday.

The number of hospitalizations was at 1,518 on Sunday and 215 people were in intensive care.

The finer details of Legault’s plan — telegraphed by the premier during his daily briefings over the past week — are expected to be laid out Monday.

Thus far, children have been shown to be less at risk for coronavirus complications, but a potential reopening of schools and daycares have left some parents, teachers and their professional unions on edge.

Legault has stressed parents can keep their kids at home, something the Parti Quebecois’ education critic said must be addressed in the government’s planning.

“The government must explain what it intends to do to ensure equity between students who return to class and those who will stay at home, especially for those who have learning disabilities or special vulnerabilities,” said Veronique Hivon.

“The health of students, their parents and school staff is paramount, but no one should be left behind.”

Since March 13, when the province’s schools effectively shuttered, Quebec hasn’t forced a teaching plan on homebound students.

The Quebec English School Boards Association urged the province to use national or international guidelines, including clear benchmarking, to address the pandemic.

Among several recommendations by the association includes a more robust distance learning plan, following the lead of other jurisdictions.

“The probable timeline of this illness will change the way we do things in the education network for some time to come,” president Dan Lamoureux said in a statement. “We may not be able, even in the medium term, to return to full class sizes in crowded, bustling schools.”

Legault has nixed the idea of sending one million schoolchildren back simultaneously in September, calling it too risky.

Among those in favour of a return to school before too long is the association representing Quebec pediatricians, who said in a letter that a gradual reopening is necessary for the well-being of kids.

They said there’s already been a mental and physical impact of prolonged confinement: a dip in calls to youth protection, depriving kids of a safety net provided by daycares and school and fewer young children being vaccinated.

Legault’s office issued a statement Saturday that its plan will be crafted under the direction of the province’s Public Health Department.

“The reality is that the virus will be part of our daily life for many months to come,” the statement read. “Life has to start gradually, there would be significant risks of keeping Quebecers confined for too long, especially in mental health.”

Provinces have taken different approaches to schools.

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New Brunswick, which announced a four-step COVID-19 recovery plan last week, will maintain home learning and opted to close schools for the rest of the school year.

Saskatchewan also outlined a detailed plan last week but schools weren’t mentioned and unlikely to open soon.

In Ontario, the province announced Sunday that public schools will remain closed in the province through May 31.

TORONTO STAR