Schools in greater Montreal area will be closed until September

Premier François Legault has announced the government will postpone students' return to class in the 82 municipalities that make up metropolitan Montreal until the start of the next school year.

Premier François Legault announced Montreal is too vulnerable to pandemic to allow schools to open before fall

Quebec children outside the Montreal region returned to school earlier this week, however, in the 82 municipalities that make up the greater Montreal region, schools will not reopen until September, Premier François Legault announced Thursday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Quebec is delaying the reopening of schools in the greater Montreal area until September.

At a news conference Thursday in Montreal, Premier François Legault said the metropolitan Montreal region has not seen the reduction in hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 needed to allow schools and daycares to be reopened safely by May 25, as previously announced.

"For the children, it's not my first choice," Legault said. But he said that given the situation in Montreal, where more than 20,000 people are confirmed to have the virus, delaying the return to class is the right decision.

"They can transmit it to their parents or grandparents, and it's too dangerous," he said.

With the normal school year ending by the June 24 holiday, Legault said it just wasn't worth bringing back students for a couple weeks.

He said the province is also looking at how it can support special needs children as they spend several more months at home.

"Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your discipline," Legault said.

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The Quebec English School Boards Association said it supports the decision. Several school boards in the Montreal area had expressed concern that it was too soon to bring students back to class safely.

Except for those open for the children of essential service workers — who already have daycare service — daycares in the region will reopen on June 1. However, Legault said that would only be the case if public health conditions allow it.

That reprieve of at least one extra week was greeted with relief by the association for Quebec early childhood education centres (CPEs). 

"Educators and directors of CPEs are not immune to the general sentiment that is prevalent in Montreal, that is, one of worry and sometimes fear," said the association's director of governmental affairs, Marie-Claude Lemieux.

The greater Montreal area, which includes Laval and both shores of the St. Lawrence, has a population of 4.2 million people and is made up of 82 municipalities, including three of Quebec's four biggest cities: Montreal, Laval and Longueuil.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante welcomed Legault's announcement.

"We know that the situation is still fragile in Montreal," Plante said. 

She said the city will be looking at ways to offer resources to parents and children as they deal with the challenges and mental strain that can come from being stuck at home.

Want more stores to open? Wear a mask

Quebec Premier François Legault arrives at a news conference in Montreal on Thursday announcing schools in the region will remain closed until September. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Retail stores outside of the greater Montreal area have already begun reopening, and stores were set to reopen in the Montreal region on May 25. But the government has not yet decided if that is going to happen.

"A crucial element that will help us to reopen is for the majority of the people to start wearing a mask in public. I strongly recommend that we do so," Legault said.

The premier said earlier this week the government will not make face-coverings mandatory, because not everyone has immediate access to one, but the wearing of masks when in enclosed public spaces is now strongly recommended. 

Plante said the city is considering making masks mandatory on public transit — but only if it has enough masks to provide every transit user with one. Montreal's transit authority, the STM, announced last week it has ordered more than 500,000 reusable masks to be handed out to commuters. 

Legault says he has been getting calls from off-island mayors concerned about the economic impact of keeping stores closed in their municipalities. But the premier said the metropolitan Montreal region is too interconnected to allow businesses in some parts of the region to reopen while elsewhere they remain closed.

Quebec Public Health Director Horacio Arruda says data also shows that people travel to Montreal from off-island suburbs to receive medical care.

"There are movements that are impossible to prevent to the North Shore and South Shore and elsewhere," he said.

With files from Sarah Leavitt

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