The Quebec government announced it’s back to school plans in June for this upcoming fall, but as the semester is quickly approaching, many find themselves skeptical of what that will look like, especially for those from kindergarten to grade 9.
A recent petition gaining traction online is calling on Premier Francois Legault and the Ministry of Education to seriously revise Quebec’s school plan. This petition, launched by parent Sarah Gibson, has been circulating quickly as it already has over 9,500 signatures, close to their goal of 10,000.
The present back to school plan most notably includes the idea of “bubble groups”, in which students from elementary school to grade 9 must attend class full-time, and stay in their cluster of 6 students. With minimal interaction allowed with anyone other than the bubble, the government hasn’t made it mandatory for children to wear masks.
Tanya Filion, an integration aide at a West Island high school, is worried about support staff within the school system like herself that are being left out of Quebec’s safety plan. As an integration aide, she primarily assists students with special needs, often with a hands-on approach in order to help them succeed in a classroom setting.
“I am provided with a mask to protect the student, but how are they protecting me if it’s not mandatory for them?” she said. “I am not comfortable going back to school at this point, I know I would be protecting the children but the children won’t be protecting me.”
Furthermore, the idea of the same 6 children sticking together all year long proves to be a challenge, especially for those in younger grades.
“Who will be in charge of making these clusters?” she mentions. “If they are supposed to spend the majority of the day together, there will be challenges for sure, possibly an increase in bullying and anxieties for children who are scared of COVID. ” she adds.
The petition notes that mandatory attendance can be potentially destructive for children with mental health issues, communication and learning challenges, and/or with vulnerable family members at home. The current school plan has no at-home public schooling option for families that may need it, not even a hybrid approach to be part online.
“Our new style of learning will evolve but teachers have definite concerns about how we are meant to “contain” large numbers of students and staff in buildings that are not designed for these new challenges,” notes Victoria Bresolin, a science teacher at Beaconsfield High School.
Additionally, there has been a growing concern about the poor ventilation systems within schools that could affect the COVID-19 transmission rate. This needs to be addressed in further studies.
“If nothing changes, I fear school might very well reopen and shut back down only after a couple of months due to a possible outbreak,” said Filion.
“There’s no lack of technology or innovative ideas – only a lack of listening, adequate budget, and action on the part of the government.” as stated in the petition.
Teachers and staff in the education system are always adapting to new changes, and this will just be another challenge to overcome.
“As has been shown in the past, we will learn from our mistakes and create a better system as long as both teachers and students are listened to,” said Bresolin.
The Quebec government said earlier this week that a more detailed back-to-school plan will be revealed sometime next week. More updates to follow soon.