Ottawa

Teachers, administrators urge Quebec to make masks mandatory in high schools

As Quebec gets ready to update its back-to-school guidelines, nervous school administrators and teachers hope it includes a mandatory mask policy for high school students, which would bring Quebec in line with most of Canada's largest provinces.

Province is re-evaluating the plan released in June, which includes no such rule

Full classrooms, poor ventilation may help spread COVID-19 in schools, union head says

1 year ago
0:35
Heidi Yetman, with the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, says there’s a risk that COVID-19 could spread in classrooms this fall. 0:35

As Quebec gets ready to update its back-to-school guidelines, nervous school administrators and teachers hope it includes a mandatory mask policy for high school students, which would bring Quebec in line with most of Canada's largest provinces.

"I would welcome that change," said Nadine Peterson, the director of the French-language western Quebec school board Commission scolaire des Portages-de-l'Outaouais

A mask policy, Peterson said, would be a relief for many teachers and parents.

"People will feel safer, especially since we're going through a kind of social change where more and more people are getting used to wearing the mask this summer out in the public," she said.

Ontario plan builds pressure

The province did not make masks mandatory for high school students when it unveiled its back-to-school plan in June, but they are now mandatory for indoor public spaces for the vast majority of people 12 and up.

The pressure to update the school policy kicked up a notch when Ontario made masks a necessity for students Grades 4 and up in its own plan last week.

"Obviously that was the one thing that stood out for us here in Quebec," said Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, which represents 8,000 teachers in English-language schools.

Yetman said teachers also recommended smaller class sizes, with high school students alternating between days in class and days learning online so that classrooms are only ever half full.

"High school students, 36 in a class with very little ventilation in buildings that are old — I don't think that's going to be safe for anybody," she said.

Students maintain social distancing at a school in Quebec in May. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

'Mixed feelings'

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said earlier this week that the school plan unveiled in June is being reassessed, with an update expected in the coming days.

Yetman said that's not surprising, given the pushback in the wake of Ontario's announcement.

But while teachers and some parents have been petitioning for mandatory masks, others aren't so sure how things will work in high school.

"I have mixed feelings about the masks," said Pamela Meness, who has a son heading into Grade 10 and a daughter going to Grade 11 this fall in Maniwaki, Que., north of Ottawa.

Meness said she has an elderly parent at home with a health condition, and is concerned her children could bring COVID-19 home with them — but she's also not sure it's realistic to declare mask usage mandatory.

"Masks in class? I don't think kids would last," said Meness. "After 20 minutes you feel the moisture on your face, and I'm thinking about kids with sensory issues."

WATCH | Would a mask policy stick?

Quebec parents unsure about province’s return-to-school plan

1 year ago
1:02
Pamela Meness, who has a son heading into Grade 10 and a daughter going to Grade 11, says she has a tough time envisioning how Quebec’s COVID-19 measures will work in schools. 1:02

Her daughter, Asha Meness-King, said she feels that while "everybody should be wearing a mask," but isn't sure about about the reality of enforcing such a rule.

"It's unrealistic to think that we're going to be in one space the entire day and wear a mask the entire day," she said. "I think there'll have to be adaptation along the way."

Mandatory in Alberta

Along with Ontario, Alberta has also announced mandatory masks for high school kids. The province's chief medical officer said this week the decision came after its own medical review. 

At a news briefing the same day, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the agency will be publishing guidelines later this week that will also include a recommendation that children over the age of 10 be required to wear masks.

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