quebec reopen schools

The Quebec schools reopening plan, explained

Quebec is planning to reopen schools across the province this month, with elementary schools and daycares outside of the Montreal area opening this morning.

The province closed schools in mid-March after the number of COVID-19 cases reached 17.

Now, Quebec will reopen schools after more than eight weeks, with the number of cases climbing to more than 38,000 — and here's how they plan to do it.

Which schools are opening?

All daycares, preschools and elementary schools in Quebec are scheduled to reopen in May 2020.

Government officials say that attendance is optional; it is up to parental discretion whether children return to school.

High schools, junior colleges and universities will remain closed until  at least September, with McGill University now planning to conduct its fall semester primarily online.

What's the timeline?

Preschools and elementary schools outside of the Montreal region opened today, on Monday, May 11.

Schools located in Montreal (and those in the nearby Joliette region) were originally scheduled to open on May 19, 2020; however, since the infection rate of the virus remains high in Montreal, the date was pushed back to May 25. Government officials say that it may be revised again depending on the health situation.

Why open schools in May?

Although research indicates that children are just as likely to contract COVID-19, only a small percentage of children appear to have become seriously ill with the virus — and Quebec officials believe that children are less at risk.

Quebec Provincial Health Officer Dr. Horacio Arruda even suggested the reopening of schools could contribute to the natural immunization of the population.

"Young people who could get the disease with almost no symptoms are like being vaccinated," Arruda said. "It is natural vaccination that will take hold, and it is important in society that a certain part of the population be vaccinated."

Quebec officials also pointed out that a COVID-19 vaccine likely won't be available for at least another year, so there's little difference between children returning to school in May or September.

"Life needs to continue," Premier François Legault said. "We don't expect a vaccine before 12 to 18 months. So we can't keep kids at home for 12 to 18 months."

Reopening elementary schools will also give parents the opportunity to return to work, which will in turn contribute to restarting Quebec's economy.

Will students actually attend?

Roughly 60 per cent of students outside of Montreal are planning to return to school this week, per CBC.

Parents must inform school administration a week in advance if their child plans on returning to school in order to allow for the organization of transportation and supervision.

How are they preventing the virus from spreading?

The Quebec government is introducing a number of strict guidelines in a bid to prevent outbreaks at the schools.

Those guidelines include:

  • a maximum of 15 students in each classroom
  • maintaining a distance of 2 meters between individuals
  • spaced out lockers and coat hooks
  • removal of objects that cannot be cleaned (e.g. books, toys)
  • posters showing proper handwashing technique must be placed close to sinks 
  • increased sanitization
  • non-contact activities in the schoolyard (e.g. foot races, obstacle courses, hopscotch)

Quebec bus drivers — many of whom are over the age of 60 and therefore particularly vulnerable to the virus — will be separated from students by a plexiglass barrier, according to Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge.

What if that doesn't work?

As any parent knows, a child is about as predictable as the weather in Canada; their behaviour depends entirely on the day.

If school children don't follow social distancing rules, the virus could spread faster — and even if children aren't likely to suffer serious complications with the virus, immunocompromised teachers, elderly bus drivers and other vulnerable groups are still at risk.

The Quebec government has even faced backlash for their decision to reopen schools in May, with many parents voicing their concerns for the safety of staff and students.

Fortunately, Quebec officials say that they're being cautious. Speaking to reporters on April 27, Premier Legault said that government officials will continue to evaluate the situation as it unfolds.

"We will analyze the situation every day and adjust if necessary," he said. "The watchword here is prudence."

Lead photo by

English Montreal School Board

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