Montreal's Herzliah High School suspends in-person classes after COVID-19 outbreak

Herzliah High School, a private Jewish school in Snowdon, will provide online learning for students for two weeks after several COVID-19 cases were detected among students.

Private school is first in Quebec to send all students home during fall term

Herzliah High School in Snowdon has suspended in-person classes for two weeks. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

A private Jewish high school in Snowdon is shutting down for two weeks after more than dozen students and staff tested positive for COVID-19.

Montreal's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, said Thursday there have been 15 confirmed cases at Herzliah High School, including an outbreak in one class affecting eight students.

She said public health is in contact with members of the Jewish community ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday this weekend to discourage large gatherings.

"We want to make sure that the number of people in those gatherings is minimized or reduced," she said.

Drouin said the outbreak has not spread to the nearby Talmud Torah Elementary School, where classes continue.

She stressed that schools are safe for Montreal students, and while there have been confirmed cases at other schools as well, most of those infections came from the community, not the classroom.

"We have a small number of outbreaks and most of the outbreaks that we have, a small number of children are affected," she said.

WATCH | Dr. Mylène Drouin talks about small outbreaks at Montreal schools:

Dr. Mylène Drouin speaks on Herzliah High School outbreak

3 years ago
Duration 1:46
Dr. Mylène Drouin, Montreal's public health director, says the outbreak at Herzliah High School is well-controlled.

As of Sept. 15, a total of 237 schools across Quebec have reported a case of COVID-19, leading students and teachers in 141 classrooms to be temporarily sent home.

There are roughly 2,685 private and public schools at the preschool, elementary and high school level, and more than a million students. 

The situation at Herzliah High appears to be the first time that the population of an entire school has been sent home since Quebec students started the fall term.

A spokesperson for Quebec's Education Ministry said the request to conduct online learning for two weeks for all students came from the school.

The ministry the request was approved as a preventive measure because the school is attended by many young people from the same community, parents were expressing concerns and the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are coming up.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said the situation at Herzliah was unique, and he does not expect other closures for now.

"What is important to understand is that when there is going to be outbreaks in schools, everything will be done to contain that," he said.

Eirtan Elkim was retrieving his books from the school Thursday, after students were informed they would be learning from home for the time being.

"I'm not happy [about it]," the Grade 10 student said, because he finds it harder to concentrate when learning online. "But they did what they had to do."

Brigitte Fortin, a spokesperson for the school, said in a statement the school has been authorized to provide online learning to all students while the building is closed.

"As one of the many schools in Quebec with COVID-19 cases, Azrieli Schools Talmud Torah | Herzliah is working in close collaboration with Quebec public health and following their directives to manage the situation," said Fortin. 

"To that end, we continue to work in partnership with our school community in stressing the importance of adhering to public health guidelines."

In a message to parents sent on Tuesday, Michelle Toledano, the director of the private elementary and high schools, reminded parents to check their children for symptoms each morning, and ensure they are wearing masks and practising physical distancing. 

She asked parents to "refrain from attending social gatherings of any kind, including celebrations during the High Holidays."

With files from Radio-Canada

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