Sports, art activities between class groups to be allowed on Sept. 14, Legault says

Premier François Legault now says students in Quebec will be allowed to participate in school sports and art activities between class groups starting Sept. 14 if there isn't a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Allowing intramural activities depends on how well things go over the next 2 weeks

If there isn't a sudden increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across Quebec, Premier François Legault says sport and arts will be restarted as they were before in schools. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Students in Quebec will be allowed to participate in school sports and art activities between class groups starting Sept. 14 if there isn't a surge in COVID-19 cases over the next two weeks, Premier François Legault said Friday.

"I hope that everything will go well and that, in two weeks, our children, our young people, will be able to start scoring goals again in all kinds of sports and having fun in all kinds of artistic activities," Legault said at a news conference.

The announcement comes only a day after Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said activities would be restricted to class bubbles until October.

Roberge's remarks immediately sparked an online petition that quickly garnered tens of thousands of signatures. 

There was even a protest in Quebec City Friday morning. Gathering in front of the National Assembly, students, parents and many sports program managers decried the restriction on inter-class activities.

They argued it made no sense, given such activities are allowed outside of school and many teams started training together during the summer.

Legault said Friday the government made the decision in collaboration with public health to prevent widespread COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.

The aim has always been to relax the restriction in time, once authorities see how things are going. 

Several hundred young people who practise sports demonstrated in front of the National Assembly on Friday. (Guillaume Piedboeuf/Radio-Canada)

The situation will be monitored and re-evaluated over the coming two weeks, the premier explained, but if everybody is following the rules and there are no serious outbreaks, then it will be possible to restart all the activities between classes.

Legault acknowledged that there was clearly disappointment and frustration after Thursday's announcement.

"We have to be careful. Parents are scared about this situation," he said on Friday. "What we decided for a first step is to keep the children in schools within one classroom including for sports and arts."

Quebec public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said on Friday that these activities are essential to children's health and schooling. He said health authorities recognize it needs to return such programming to normal.

Schools support decision to wait 2 weeks

Jean-Frédéric Gagné, the sports co-ordinator at Saint-Jean-Eudes school in Quebec City, was among those relieved by Legault's decision.

"This is good news for Quebec school football teams," he told Radio-Canada. "Sept. 14 will allow sports officials to set a calendar and provide a quality season for our student athletes."

David Bowles, principal at the Collège Charles-Lemoyne, said the new ruling will allow schools to get ready for the new season by Sept. 15. ( Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

David Bowles feels the same way. He is principal at the Collège Charles-Lemoyne on Montreal's South Shore and president of the Fédération des établissements d'enseignement privé — an association that represents 193 Quebec private schools.

He said it was frustrating to hear in late August that all sports and other activities in schools were to be suspended.

It was long understood that they would be allowed as they are allowed outside of schools, he said, so "for us it was completely incoherent that we needed to stop our sports programs."

For a lot of students, sports are the main motivation to stay in school and now Bowles thinks everybody is relieved to hear Friday's announcement.

"We're hoping that everything will go well and we can start out our seasons on the 15th," he said.

With files from CBC's Simon Nakonechny and Radio-Canada

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