As It Happens·Q&A

Extending winter school break would be 'very bad for the kids': Quebec health critic

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas breaks could be extended in some parts of Canada.

Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy says schools need reduced class sizes and proper ventilation systems

Quebec Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy says the government's silence on mandatory masks in schools sends younger people a mixed message. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press )


It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas breaks could be extended in some parts of Canada.

With COVID-19 cases surging again in much of the country, some provinces are considering an extended winter break for students. 

Quebec Premier François Legault said Thursday that schools may have to close in advance of the December break, or continue after the holidays, potentially extending the school year to into the summer 

In Ontario, the Council of Ontario Directors of Education has called on the province to consider doing something similar, reports the Globe and Mail. But the province's Ministry of Education told CP24 it is "currently not considering modifications to the school year calendar for 2020." 

Marwah Rizqy, the Quebec Liberal education critic, doesn't think a longer break is the answer. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

What have you been hearing from parents and teachers since Premier Legault admitted he was considering an extension of the December break?

The parents are very exhausted and the teachers are so exhausted because it's very demanding to teach during a pandemic, and we don't have the feeling that we have leadership for the education system right now.

Mr. [Jean-François] Roberge, the Quebec education minister, is always behind even through the WHO and the INSPQ [Quebec's public health agency], published studies after studies that we should reduce the number of students in the inside of the classroom and we should have air purifying systems at school to provide a better air quality.

We always fall too short and always behind. And this is why today we have to hear the premier, Mr. Legault, saying that he wants to shut down the school. I think if we get more prepared, we can keep the school open in a [safe] manner.

Quebec premier says 'schools are a place of transmission'

3 years ago
Duration 0:50
Premier François Legault says schools might have to close this winter, extending the holiday break in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

It looks pretty extraordinary how since September, how quickly the numbers have gone up as far as school-related cases in Quebec. What can you tell us about that?

Well, for weeks during summer, I've been asking, are we going to [make] masks mandatory inside school? And Mr. Legault, Mr. Roberge, they never were able to provide a clear answer. So we were behind [on] the masks as opposed to the other provinces.

And the numbers of COVID-19 outbreaks since September is always going up, never going down. And right now I think we should not wait to see what's going to happen for the holidays. We should definitely go ahead and reduce the numbers of students inside the classroom. We should definitely go ahead and buy air purifying systems to provide a very [safe] classroom for the kids and for the teachers.

I truly believe that instead of shutting down the school, we should have a progressive return that will be like having half of the class either one day [in school] and the other day [at home], or a half a day for the half of the class. But we cannot just simply ask the parents to keep their kids for another month at home.

If … half the kids came back the other half didn't, there's still parents who are stuck with not knowing how to take care of the kids because they got to get back to work, right? This has been a big issue for them.

Yes. But it's better to have them one day out of two than have them for two weeks at home doing nothing. I'd rather have 50 per cent of the kids at school than have none of them at school at all.

And what about for the teachers? Because, again, not enough teachers…

The option is very simple. What we should do is to put a camera inside of the class so the teacher will be in his class with half of the students and … the other students will be at home. And the next day, you're switching the group.

But this is a temporary measure?

This is only for the first two weeks when we return after the holidays.

We've been asking for months to give the online learning options to the parents. Many Quebecers are asking the government to have this option. I know that the Ontario government gave that option to the parents. I don't understand why in Quebec we just say "no" to the parents who want to provide online teaching to their kids.

Rizqy says schools should instead reduce class sizes and improve ventilation.

You mentioned the education minister Jean-François Roberge. He says that, before they reduce class sizes, they need to ask if schools have the technology and the training. And, so far, he says the answer is "no." What do you say to Minister Roberge?

Yes, of course, we are not trained, but we should have been prepared since July. 

He should be the one in charge. And because of the lack of leadership, this is why today we're not ready. But we can be ready if, right now, we're taking the steps to be ready for January. So we have two months to prepare and to get ready.

[The Globe] reports … that in Quebec …  20 per cent of the new COVID cases are from your schools…. Doesn't that kind of call for something more dramatic than just to try and find a way to reduce class sizes or whatever? Doesn't it kind of scream for, [as] people are saying, a shutdown … so you can do a circuit breaker and stop those infections from spreading?

A shutdown will be very, very bad for the kids. That will create even more setbacks. And we already have health issues … and mental issues to deal with.

I very [much] appreciate Dr. [Horacio] Arruda as the national director of [public health] in Quebec. But I think right now we should have someone devoted only for the education minister and helping us to make sure that we can have classes that [are] COVID-19-free.

Do you have any sense that the government in Quebec is listening to you?

Yes, they are listening to us, but always three weeks behind. And we don't have time to waste. I don't have time to argue. My No. 1 Priority is the safety of the kids and the teachers.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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