Ottawa

Back to school in western Quebec, with precautions

Elementary schools reopened in much of Quebec Monday, but students will notice some significant changes to their routine as administrators try to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Some parents admit to feeling anxious as children flock back to class

A woman walks her daughter to school May 11, 2020 in Gatineau, Que. Quebec elementary school students outside of Montreal returned to class across the province. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Elementary schools reopened in much of Quebec Monday, but students will notice some significant changes to their routine as administrators try to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Everything from how students line up to where they sit and what they can do at recess needs to change because of COVID-19, school officials say.

"What we've been doing is setting up a new school," said Simon Leclair, principal of Ėcole de la Forêt, a French elementary school in Gatineau, Que.

"[It's a] completely different way to do things." 

Quebec requires students stay two metres apart at all times and, where possible, limits the number of students in each classroom to a maximum of 15.

While the province has issued guidelines for physical distancing and proper hygiene, it's up to individual schools to figure out how to do that in practice.

Signs and tape

It's a project that's required a rethinking of almost every aspect of the school day.

At Ėcole de la Forêt, students will arrive to see signs around the schoolyard telling them to stay two metres away from their peers. Which door they use will depend on their grade.

Inside the classroom, desks are spaced apart from each other and each student's personal space is marked on the floor with tape.

If classes resume in the fall, desks will need to be spaced apart from each other, to reduce possible exposure to COVID-19. Private schools say their smaller classes put them in a position to comply more easily. (Submitted/Ėcole de la Forêt)

Leclair said students won't be allowed to share writing utensils and books.

Teachers will use whiteboards to provide instruction as much as possible, Leclair said, as a way to cut back on passing around of papers.

Recess periods will be staggered to limit the number of students in the schoolyard.

"We're not actually that worried because, the kids, they learn really quickly and they've been taught as well with their parents to be careful," said Leclair. 

WATCH: What parents of kids going back to school are thinking

Parents who spoke to CBC News say their kids are excited about seeing friends and getting back to class, and that schools seem prepared for their return. 0:45

Parents anxious but ready

Rico Lavoie watched his two kids, Flavie, 10, and Simon-Olivier, 12, board the school bus Monday morning.

"I was happy for them because I think it's important they get back to a normal life, they see their friends and have a routine that they can get used to," he said. "I think overall, it's what's best for them."

With relatively few active cases in the region, Lavoie said it wasn't a difficult decision to send his children back to school.

"I think there's very little risk and a lot of upside for them," he said.

Children board a school bus in Gatineau, Que., for the first time in two months. The driver, wearing a mask, sits behind a plastic screen. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Marie-Michelle Gauthier was more trepidatious about sending her nine-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, back to her Grade 3 class.

"I can't lie, I think I'm a bit anxious. I hope everything will go well. There's a bit of anxiety knowing, am I making the good choice if she gets sick? Then I'm going to have that on me, so I'm going to feel really, really bad."

Gauthier said communicating with the school and her daughter's teacher has helped ease some of her concerns, but she still plans to take the situation day-by-day.

"Tonight's going to be a big discussion to see how it went and how it's going," she said.

Planning every detail

Eldon Keon, principal of Gatineau's English Lord Aylmer School, said administrators and teachers at his school have tried to plan out every detail and anticipate the risks of every possible scenario.

Its common areas including the gym and libraries have been blocked off. Any activities that require sharing materials are forbidden.

Instead, students will be given their own jump ropes and arts supplies — all of which will be sanitized before every use.

WATCH: How one Gatineau school bus company is getting ready

Quebec bus companies like Campeau Bus Lines are getting ready to take students back to school starting Monday. Buses are being cleaned, protective screens are being installed for drivers, and the seats are being marked to ensure physical distancing. 1:16

"Rethinking [school] for reducing the risk of the spread of COVID-19 has really put everyone to the test," said Keon.

Class sizes at Lord Aylmer will be limited to seven students, Keon said, which is possible because only 13 per cent or less than 100 of the school's 685 students have registered their intent to return.

Keon said during the first week back there will be two teachers in every class. One will teach and the other will make sure students are following physical distancing rules.

"There will be a learning process," said Keon. "As children start learning different ways of being together, I think it'll be a lot easier."

The Quebec government's decision to open up schools faster than many other provinces received some criticism. Critics argued the province — which has the most COVID-19 deaths in the country — was moving too fast.

But both Keon and Leclair said they are hopeful the procedures they've developed will be enough to keep students safe and offer much-needed relief for parents.

Older students won't be back inside schools until the next school year. Ontario's schools are closed until the end of May.

The World Health Organization says there are many things to consider when deciding whether or not to open schools, including the intensity of coronavirus transmission in the community. 2:57

With files from Kimberley Molina

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now