Quebec elementary school students return to new reality

Elementary schools outside the Montreal region reopened Monday with a range of new security measures in place ranging from desks spaced two metres apart to staggered lunch and recess hours. 

Primary schools outside Montreal region reopened Monday after being closed for nearly 2 months

Quebec school bus driver Yvon Laviolette pulls a clear plastic curtain into place as a safety precaution. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Sebastian Weiss and his classmates spent the first half of their first day back at school Monday going over all the new rules they have to follow to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"If you go out of the class, you have to wash your hands and when you come into the class, you have to wash your hands," said Sebastian, a 10-year-old Grade 5 student at Quebec City's Anne-Hébert school.

After heading home for lunch, he returned for an afternoon-long refresher on subjects his class had been studying before schools across the province shut down in mid-March.

Elementary schools outside the Montreal region reopened Monday with a range of new security measures, from desks spaced two metres apart to staggered lunch and recess hours. 

Play structures are still off limits in the schoolyards and kids are expected to follow markings on the sidewalks and floors to ensure they are keeping a safe distance from each other.

Kristy Findlay dropped her son, Sebastian Weiss, off at Anne Hébert school in Quebec City on Monday. Overall, Sebastian estimates he washed his hands at least seven times during the day. (Victoria Emanuelle Forest Briand/CBC)

Quebec is the first province to widely reopen most of its schools after closing in March. 

However, school isn't obligatory. Parents can keep their children home if they choose. An estimated 58 per cent of eligible students returned to class. 

"My mom put us in school because she's not scared of us getting the virus," said Sebastian.

Though, he added with a laugh, the real reason she's sending him and his nine-year-old brother back to class is so she can finally get some work done at home. 

Their mother, Kristy Findlay, said she wanted her kids to return to a routine while being empowered to have a role in this global pandemic — a pandemic that otherwise had them stuck at home with little to do.

"For me, a really important part is having them try out these social distancing measures before September," she said. 

"Before we have the pressure of academic learning to go along with learning all the social distancing routines and rules."

Grade 5 class with 8 students 

Rebecca Hamel, a Grade 5 student at Holland School in Quebec City, said she enjoyed her return to school even though her day "was really different from usual," she said.

There was a lot of playing outside and practising math inside, she said. Many of her friends didn't come back. There were only eight students in her class.

"It was really quiet," she said, noting only her teacher and one classmate were wearing a mask.

Kids are expected to keep two metres apart at all times, be it lining up before classes begin, playing in the schoolyard or sitting at their desks. (Victoria Emanuelle Forest Briand/CBC)

Rebecca said she was told to wash her hands every time she put on her shoes or took them off. She had to keep two metres apart from her classmates and follow arrows through the school to maintain that distance.

"Outside, it was separated into four parts," she said. "We were in different parts."

She could no longer play closely with her friends, she said, and the teachers were controlling the outdoor activities.

"It was a bit like gym class," she said, but she was able to have fun anyway both during recess and throughout the day.

"I feel like it's going to be really different and we will have to adjust to those rules and the new schedule, but I feel good that I'm back at school."

Samuel Bernard, a Grade 2 teacher at École Primaire Jules-Émond in Val-Bélair, Que., said he was thrilled on Monday to see his students in person, and he's confident he and his colleagues have made the school as safe as possible.

While he's nervous the province may be easing its COVID-19 restrictions too quickly, he said the reopening went well. 

"Today was supposed to be the worst day of the week about the measures and everything, but it went pretty well," he said.  

"So I think, like, in a week we'll be really pretty good and our students will be safe. So I hope some of them are reassured."

With files from Victoria Emanuelle Forest Briand and CBC's Breakaway

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