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Plan to reopen Quebec schools raising some concerns

Some parents and teachers have concerns about how Quebec's plan to bring more students back to school in September will balance health and education.

Questions from parents, teachers about balancing health and learning

In this classroom at Ėcole de la Forêt in Gatineau, Que., desks are spaced apart from each other, with each students' personal space marked on the floor with tape. This fall's strategy would look slightly different. (Submitted/Ėcole de la Forêt)

Some parents and teachers have concerns about how Quebec's plan to bring more students back to school in September will balance health and education.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge unveiled his government's plan Tuesday, which would divide classes up to Grade 9 into subgroups of up to six students who will not have to physically distance from one another.

However, subgroups will have to remain one metre away from other subgroups and maintain a two-metre distance from other students and staff whenever possible.

Students in Grades 10 and 11 will have the option to either form subgroups or do some home learning while staying with the same class of students.

CEGEP and university students will do a mix of in-school and at-home online learning.

"It's a little scary and I'm not too sure how the [Western Québec School Board] is going to adapt," said Shannon Davis, that board's parent commissioner for special education.

Davis said while she has a lot of confidence in the school board, administrators and teachers, she questions whether the guidelines to bring students back to class can be carried out effectively.
Parent Shannon Davis says worries teachers will have difficulty balancing their teaching duties with keeping children safely distanced during the pandemic. (Supplied)

"I'm trying to wrap my head around the logistics of it," she said.

"We have as many as 1,400 students at one of our biggest high schools, so it'll be interesting to see how we can make that work successfully."

The board said that students with medical conditions who cannot return to school will still be supported, including new learning capsules produced by the Ministry of Education.

Schools across the province were closed in mid-March because of the pandemic

, but some elementary students in that English-language school board and others outside the Montreal area had the option to return to class on May 11.

Some schools saw less than half of their students come back.

'A distracting way of teaching'

Davis added that she also worries about teachers' ability to balance teaching new concepts with ensuring students remain physically distanced.

"It's going to be such a distracting way of teaching," she said. "Teaching is hands-on. The distance thing is a real struggle."

Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said she would've liked the provincial government to have consulted with teachers more before drafting their reopening plans.

"That's so important to make sure that a plan will work," she said.

Yetman said she's already fielding calls from teachers wondering how the guidelines will work once school starts.

"I already [have] teachers saying 'Do we have to put them in these subgroups? Do we have to follow that rule?' Because it's a hard rule to follow," she said.

"This is going be really, really hard."

'They're exhausted'

Yetman said once class sizes grow in the fall, things will get even tougher for teachers struggling to maintain their small class sizes right now.

"They're exhausted," she said.

"So now we're bringing everybody back. In elementary [schools] that means the class can go all the way up to 26, 27 students."

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

Yetman said another important aspect to consider before schools reopen is the mental health and well-being of students and teachers. 

"I'm particularly worried because everybody has kind of lived through some sort of trauma during this pandemic," she said.

"There should be some trauma-informed pedagogy moving forward [and] I don't see that in the plan either."

With files from Kamila Hinkson

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