Montreal

Quebec blocks public schools from making masks mandatory in classroom

Quebec's Education Ministry says school boards do not have the authority to make masks mandatory in classrooms.

Government's position emerged after Lester B. Pearson school board temporarily expanded mask rule

Masked students are seen entering a school in Texas. When students return to class in Quebec this fall, masks will be mandatory for those in Grade 5 and up, and only outside the classroom. (LM Otero/The Associated Press)

Public schools in Quebec won't be able to require their students to wear a mask in the classroom, even though some experts have endorsed the safety measure. 

The provincial back-to-school plan, announced last week, states that students in Grade 5 and above must wear masks when moving about the school.

But masks are not required in the classroom, in the gym or while eating lunch in the cafeteria.

In a statement released Monday, the ministry made it clear that school boards and service centres (the administrative bodies that replaced French-language school boards) don't have the leeway to expand on the provincial guidelines.

"School boards don't have the public health powers and can't, under the powers given to them under the Education Act, require all students to wear a face-covering under all circumstances at school," the ministry said in a statement to CBC News.

Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge released an updated version of the province's back-to-school plan last week. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
  

The Education ministry made its position known after the Lester B. Pearson School Board informed parents on social media last week that masks would be required in the classroom as well.

That post disappeared from the school board's Facebook page soon after. On Friday, the board informed parents that it had erroneously posted misleading information about its back-to-school guidelines.

The LBPSB declined a request for comment. 

Rule had backing of teachers, experts and parent

Teachers, however, had welcomed the stricter mask rule. "They felt the school board was taking their safety seriously, when they felt that perhaps the ministry or public health was not," said Matt Wilson, president of the Pearson Teachers Union. 

Medical experts have also expressed support for broadening the mask rule in classrooms, where students won't be required to distance from each other.

Students will begin returning to school next week in Quebec. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist with the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, is among those who believe masks should be worn inside the classroom, at least at the start of the year. 

"Once we have a sense of how things are doing in school, then there can be some room for flexibility," he told CBC's Daybreak last week. 

Dr. Earl Rubin, head of the infectious disease unit at the Montreal Children's Hospital, said when he was consulted by public health officials on the back-to-school plan, he recommended they consider requiring masks inside the class as well.

Peter Katsoulis, who has a daughter in Beacon Hill Elementary School​​ and a wife who works at another LBPSB school, said the school board should've stood up to the government and enforced a mandatory mask policy of its own. 

"It's not just our kids, it's not just our teachers or the staff at the school that need protecting but society as a whole, the older generations," he said.

"The school board is playing politics. They want to keep the government happy. I don't quite understand," he said.

Katsoulis is so concerned by the provincial government's decision to not make masks mandatory in classrooms that he pulled his daughter out of Beacon Hill​​'s pre-kindergarten program. He is keeping her in daycare this year instead.

He said that the daycare's sanitary measures seemed to be more robust.

 

With files from Matt D'Amours and Jonathan Montpetit

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