Quebec says private schools can't force students to wear masks in classrooms

Some Quebec private schools say they'll go beyond provincial guidelines and require students to wear masks at all times, even in classrooms. The province says they can't.

Province says private schools must use same guidelines as public schools

Ontario’s back-to-school plan, announced Thursday, has elementary students returning to school full-time, and all-day mask wear required for students in Grades 4 to 12. (Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images)

Quebec's Education Ministry says private schools in the province can't go beyond COVID-19 public health guidelines set for public schools, and require students to wear masks in classrooms.

Some private schools have told CBC they'll defy the government and do it anyway.

"We'll be wearing masks basically 24/7. The masks will be worn constantly," Katherine Nikidis, head of Montreal's Trafalgar School for Girls, told CBC in an interview Monday. 

The provincial back-to-school plan, announced earlier this month, states that students in Grade 5 and above must wear masks when moving about the school, but masks won't be required in classrooms, in the gym or while eating lunch in the cafeteria.

Last week, the province said public school boards and service centres couldn't go further and set their own policies.

Now Quebec's Education Ministry says the same thing applies to private schools.

"Private educational institutions do not have public health powers and could not, within the framework of the powers granted to them in the Education Act, require all students to wear face coverings at all times at school,"  Esther Chouinard, a spokesperson for the ministry, told CBC in an email.

"They can advise them without being able to compel them," she continued.

Some private schools ignoring directive

Trafalgar and several other private schools in Quebec are going ahead with full-time mask requirements, in spite of the provincial directive.

"I know that the government has stipulated that they don't need to be worn during class but we feel the first few weeks of school we want to be quite vigilant and ensure that we're taking extra precautions," Nikidis said.

Katherine Nikidis, head of Trafalgar School for Girls in Montreal, told CBC her school will require students to wear masks in classrooms in spite of the fact the province says private schools don't have the power to enact such requirements. (Trafalgar School)

She said she's aware of the ministry's guidelines, but she's not concerned.

"I don't see us having an issue with our students or our teachers complying," Nikidis said.

"If a situation arises where somebody feels that they can't wear a mask or they're being forced to wear a mask, obviously we would address it appropriately in terms of the legal requirements and what we're allowed to do," Nikidis continued.

"We'll see if we get called on it and, if the ministry is worried about how we're doing it, we'll respond accordingly," Nikidis said.

Some private schools going beyond provincial guidelines

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Montreal's Trafalgar School for Girls will require students to wear masks in classrooms. It says it's taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of everyone in the community.

But, she said, in the meantime, the requirement to wear masks in classrooms will stay in place.

"I feel that sometimes our role is to make the decisions that we know work best in our situations, making sure that we never under protect but, where necessary, we overprotect," Nikidis said.

Other Montreal private schools, including Sacred Heart School, The Study, and Loyola, are also requiring students to wear masks in classrooms.

Different rules for different schools

Some private schools are going a different route.

Ross Murray, director of communications for Stanstead College in Stanstead, told CBC the college would follow the same guidelines as public schools and allow students to remove masks while in class.

"It doesn't make sense for them to wear them all day long, so it's a matter of trying to find a balance," Murray said.

Nikidis said Trafalgar's decision came as a growing chorus of health care professionals recommended more stringent mask requirements.

"Up until last week, we were considering no masks in the classrooms. Following this weekend some of the directives or suggestions we heard from medical professionals, we felt it was important to really rethink that," she said.