Mont-Bleu parents protest part-time return to class

Parents are protesting a decision that could see some students at École secondaire Mont-Bleu attend school part-time starting in September.

School year would see students alternate between in-class and at-home learning for older students

A group of parents of students at École secondaire Mont-Bleu are pushing back against plans to bring some students into school only part-time in September. (Julie-Anne Lapointe/Radio-Canada)

Parents are protesting a decision that could see some students at École secondaire Mont-Bleu attend school part-time starting in September.

Students at the Gatineau highschool have had their education disrupted due to the tornadoes that ripped through the region in 2018, and again in 2019 because of flooding.

The prospect of full-time schooling being interrupted yet again for these students is too much for some parents.

"It's important for these kids to be in school, in their community, 100 per cent of the time," said Marie-Hélène Bélisle, whose son attends Mont-Bleu. "This is an educational issue, but also a question of social development."

About a dozen parents from a Facebook group formed a committee to fight the decision, after they found out about it in a letter dated July 9 from the Centre de services scolaire des Portages-de-l'Outaouais (CSSPO). 

The letter explained that the current space isn't sufficient to accommodate everyone at the same time and the plan is to have Secondary 4 and 5 — comparable to Grades 10 and 11 in the Ontario system — students attend class on a part-time basis.

"A schedule will follow for the days they will be at home. They will then benefit from structured distance learning," the letter, written in French, reads.

"When my boy started high school at Mont-Bleu, there was a flood. Then … the tornado happened and then COVID-19," said Bélisle.

"When we look at the whole history, we say to ourselves, these young people have resilience," she said. "At some point, we have to ask ourselves the question: 'Can it be our turn? Can it be Mont-Bleu that comes first? What about these kids?"

Marie Hélène Bélisle's son attends École secondaire Mont-Bleu. She believes the proposed plan to alternate between in-class and at-home learning next school year is not what students need. (Radio-Canada)

The committee of parents believes there's still time to come up with other options to part-time school attendance, such as having portables similar to those that were installed after the 2018 tornadoes.

In an effort to overturn the decision, it's been writing to various provincial ministers, the mayor of Gatineau, Que., as well as the school's principal over the past few days.

No other choice, say administrators

But the school's principal said bringing in portables isn't possible.

"We are out of stock of portables across the province," Pierre Ménard told Radio-Canada. "It takes a long time to get our hands on portables and then it takes a very long time to get the approvals."

He said the current plan is to have a week of in-class learning for Secondary 4 students, followed by a week of learning at home, and vice-versa for Secondary 5 students. Students at the two levels would alternate throughout the school year.

Ever since the school was damaged by a lightening strike in 2018, following tornadoes that tore through the area, Mont-Bleu students have been attending classes at the Asticou Centre in Gatineau, Que. But the centre isn't considered suitable to accommodate students during the pandemic. (Radio-Canada)

"Distance courses will be just as compulsory and important. There will be no part-time per se," he said.

He also recognized Mont-Bleu students have endured several challenges over the past two-and-a-half years.

"The students have shown us that they are very flexible, as are staff and parents. We were able to do it, we are going to be able to face these new challenges. I don't really have any worries," he said.

But he did indicate that the decision on how the new school year will run isn't final. A letter is expected to be sent to parents the second week of August.

With files from Radio-Canada's Boris Proulx