Ontario teachers who work in Quebec anxious about May return
Elementary schools to reopen May 11 if COVID-19 cases remain stable or decline
Alexandra Woloschuk might miss her Grade 2 and 3 students at her Gatineau, Que., school, but the Ottawa elementary teacher thinks it's too early resume classes.
Woloschuk is one of a number of teachers who live in eastern Ontario but cross the Ottawa River to work in western Quebec's school system.
On Monday, teaching staff are slated to be back in the classroom, getting ready for elementary school students to return in early May.
Woloschuk worries, however, that returning home from a crowded school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic could endanger the health of her family.
"I love teaching. I love the students. I love my job," said Woloschuk. "But we need to make sure [the resumption of classes] is done in a safe, gradual manner, with a clear plan in place to keep everyone healthy."
Provinces 'on totally different pages'
The Quebec government announced this week that certain regions, including the Outaouais, would see their daycares and elementary schools reopen May 11 if hospitalizations from COVID-19 either remain stable or decline across the province.
For Erin Kelly-Duffy, who lives in Pembroke, Ont., but teaches Grades 5 and 6 in Campbell Bay, Que., there are "tons of questions that remain unanswered."
Kelly-Duffy said she's anxious about the lack of personal protective equipment, as the Quebec government isn't issuing masks to teachers or children attending elementary schools.
She's also concerned about being pulled over by police on the interprovincial bridge when she drives to and from work each day.
But what really has her perplexed is the fact Ontario and Quebec seem to be "on totally different pages" when it comes to tackling the pandemic.
"On Monday, I'm expected to report back to work and to be in a room with children and with a bunch of people throughout the day," said Kelly-Duffy, noting that goes against the physical rules being enforced by officials in Ontario.
'Basic stuff' still unknown: teachers' association
The big question is what protocols will be in place to "keep teachers and students safe when they return to the building," said Heidi Yetman, president of Quebec's provincial association of English teachers.
The Quebec government has said the decision to reopen elementary schools was made, in part, because the risk of younger children developing complications from COVID-19 is very low.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said Monday classes will be limited to a maximum of 15 students, and the two-metre distancing rule will have to be respected wherever possible.
But Yetman said the province hasn't clearly thought through how to ensure proper cleanliness and hygiene, or how to manage physical distancing and handwashing — particularly among youngsters excited to be reunited with their school chums.
"[It's] basic stuff like are there enough sinks in this school in order for kids to wash their hands, and is there going to be soap?" said Yetman.
"Is there going to be enough paper towels or support staff to make sure the school is disinfected?"
Yetman said she hopes pressure from parents and teachers will force the Quebec government to delay the reopening until safety procedures are in place.
In Ontario, students at publicly-funded schools won't be going back to class before the end of May.
"My biggest question is, OK, when do you shut this down?" asked Yetman. "When a teacher dies? When a student dies? Yeah, I'm really angry with the government."