Students will remain in their classroom and in their assigned personal space for the school day, other than going out for a physically distanced recess. Some classes will be held in school libraries or science labs to keep groups of children small and separated. There will be no physical education, music, drama or art classes.
Quebec school boards are providing a glimpse of what a return to school will look like as the province becomes the first in Canada to reopen classrooms to students as early as next week.
Even though Quebec has been hit hardest in the country by COVID-19, Premier François Legault said that elementary schools and daycares outside of Montreal would reopen on May 11. Schools in the Montreal area would reopen a week later, although Mr. Legault has hinted that might be delayed if the situation in the city does not stabilize.
There has been pushback from the province’s English school boards, which say they don’t feel it is safe as of yet to reopen. Mr. Legault said on Monday that it was up to parents, not school boards, to decide whether they feel safe sending children back.
The impact of COVID-19 on children is unclear. Public-health officials are still trying to understand how children affect transmission and why they tend not to get very ill when infected.
Other provinces have said that they will not be following Quebec’s lead in reopening their schools, even with two months left in the academic year.
Faced with a short timeline to reopen, Quebec school boards are outlining what steps will be taken should families choose to send their children to school.
The measures include limiting class sizes to 15 student and applying the two-metre distancing rule. School boards say they may relocate some groups of students to high-school buildings.
The school principal will create a recess schedule to allow class groups to go outside. Play structures would not be used and class groups will be separated, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) told families in a letter on Monday.
The EMSB also said that most of their school buses hold about 48 children, but distancing requirements mean that only 12 could ride on a bus. The board said that it would survey parents on whether they would be able to drive their children to school.
“Every parent is eager for life to return to normal – for themselves, but even more so for their children. But it must be understood that the circumstances under which our schools will reopen this spring will not be normal,” wrote Ann Marie Matheson, director general of EMSB.
She said that the typical teaching strategies, such as group work, hands-on learning and guided reading, would not meet safety guidelines. “This reality will be difficult for both the teachers and the students,” Ms. Matheson wrote. “It is important that all parents understand and accept this reality when making their decision to send their child back to school or not.”
Similarly, Robert Gendron, director general of the Commission scolaire de Montréal, noted the challenges of reopening schools even though proper hygiene and physical-distancing measures will be put in place.
“We understand that the current situation creates a lot of questions and even anxiety: Know that as parents you will have the choice whether or not to send your child to school,” he told parents in a letter on Monday.
Nancy Heath, James McGill professor in department of educational and counselling psychology at McGill University, said parents’ anxiety has been raised and it’s “extremely challenging” to turn it down so quickly and send their children to school. She said that some will, because of the stresses at home, and for them, it will be the right decision.
Prof. Heath said schools will do their best to keep children safe. “Will they be able to keep the kids a two-metre distance from each other in all circumstances? No, that’s not feasible. Will they be able to keep them a two-metre distance a lot of the time? Probably, because kids learn, they adapt," she said.
With a report from Les Perreaux
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