Parents, teachers protest back-to-school measures outside Education Ministry office

About 100 parents and teachers called for smaller class sizes, an online-learning option for everybody and more cleaning staff in schools. In Quebec City, a larger crowd called for no masks in schools.

Protesters called for smaller class sizes, online-learning option for everybody and more cleaning staff

Isabelle Lafortune, Ellie Robichaud, Paul Robichaud and Julianne Robichaud attended the protest Sunday. Paul Robichaud is uncomfortable with the idea of sending his two daughters, who attend English Montreal School Board schools, back to class. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

Parents and teachers continue to voice their concern about Quebec's back-to-school plan. On Sunday, about a hundred gathered outside the Montreal office of Quebec's Education Ministry, calling for stronger COVID-19 prevention measures. 

The protest was organized by a group of Quebec educators advocating for more progressive policies in education, the Travailleuses et travailleurs progressistes de l'éducation. 

The protesters say they want smaller class size and more custodian staff hired at the schools to regularly disinfect common spaces. 

"We think the idea of having upwards of 35 students per class in high schools is completely unrealistic," said Alex Pelchat, an organizer of the protest and a Grade 5 French and math teacher for the Centre de services scolaires de Montréal.

Pelchat said classes should be reduced to about a third of their current size. 

"There is no way teachers will be able to clean everything themselves without additional budgets and additional human resources," he added.

Earlier this month, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge unveiled the province's revised plan for elementary and high school students' return to school this fall. 

Students in Grade 5 and up must wear masks in common areas, except classrooms. Physical distancing will not be enforced in classrooms, though children must remain two metres away from teachers.

The return to class is mandatory for all students unless they or a close family member present a doctor's note exempting them because of an underlying health condition. Those students will be allowed to access an online-learning program.

Amid calls for smaller class sizes, teachers' unions have denounced a shortage of educators, pointing to hundreds of unfilled positions across the province.

Alex Pelchat is of the protest's organizers and a Grade 5 the Centre de service scolaire de Montréal.  (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC)

The Health Ministry has released a set of guidelines for doctors issuing medical exemption notes, including a list of medical conditions and severity levels that would qualify for a note.

Paul Robichaud, whose children are going into Grade 7 and Grade 4 at English Montreal School Board schools, wants online-learning to be available to every family.

"I'm very, very worried. We have existing health conditions in our family that aren't on the list," Robichaud said, referring to the guidelines set out by the Health Ministry.

"If one of us catches COVID-19, it could be a disaster."

Laura Wills, a mother of two children going into Grade 5 and Grade 2, says she worries about class sizes. 

"Every child has a life outside of school — a social life and a family life — and that bubble will be exponentially exposed to many other bubbles," she said.

In an emailed statement to CBC, an Education Ministry spokesperson said there are no plans to further revise the back-to-school measures. 

"We understand some may have worries, but they have to trust our public health experts, who are in a better position than anybody to judge the efficiency of the measures we're putting in place," the statement said.

Anti-maskers gather in Quebec City

In Quebec City, a much larger crowd of about a thousand protested against children wearing masks in schools at all, saying it infringes on children's freedom.

About a thousand protesters gathered in Quebec City, saying children shouldn't have to wear masks in schools. (Hadi Hassin/Radio-Canada)

Conservative pundit Eric Duhaime co-organized the protest. He said although he believes the virus is real, the government's measures against it are "exaggerated."

"Now, they're attacking 10-year-olds," Duhaime said. "What unites us is we don't want the government to touch our children, and putting a mask on a 10-year-old doesn't make sense."

For most Quebec students, the new school year begins within the next week. 

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio, Presse Canadienne and Radio-Canada

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