As It Happens

Quebec teacher worries school opened 'too quickly,' but says students are adapting

Samuel Bernard had mixed feelings about being back in the classroom.

Province opened schools outside Montreal on Monday with physical distancing protocols

Samuel Bernard is a Grade 2 teacher at École Primaire Jules-Émond in Val-Bélair, Que. (Submitted by Samuel Bernard)
Listen6:53

Transcript

Samuel Bernard has mixed feelings about being back in the classroom.

The Grade 2 teacher at École Primaire Jules-Émond in Val-Bélair, Que., says he was thrilled on Monday to see his students in person, and he's confident he and his colleagues have made the school as safe as possible.

Nevertheless, he says he's nervous his province may be easing its COVID-19 restrictions too quickly.

Quebec is the first province to widely reopen most of its schools after closing in March. Returning to school is not mandatory, and physical distancing protocols are in place. Schools in the Montreal area, where there is a higher number of COVID-19 cases, will remain closed until May 25.

Here is part of Bernard's conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Samuel, how did it feel to be back in your classroom today?

First thing in the morning, when I was home and was pretty worried, a bit of anxiety attacked me. But as soon as I saw my students this morning and then I saw them come into class, it felt really good. I felt a lot of joy and everyone was thrilled to be back.

So it felt right. It felt great. The vibe was positive. 

But of course, there's still a lot of uncertainty and a bit of anxiety. I think it will follow us for the next days.

Was it fairly emotional with you and the kids?

It was emotional from a positive point of view, if I can say that. Like, my kids were really happy to be back to see me again and see their friends.

How many of your kids actually came?

In my classroom, I have 12 kids because I can't host any other one [while] respecting the two-metres-apart [rule]. 

Teacher Benoit Galerneau uses his measuring tape on Olivier Robin, to show what two meters is on Monday at the Primerose school in Quebec City. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Give us a sense of the day and how different it is.

We have to wash our hands quite a lot. 

Just this morning, as soon as my students came inside the school, they had to put on some hand sanitizer. And then, when they were inside the classroom, they had to wash their hands water and soap. And they had to do it again before eating their snack, after taking the snack, before they would be able to go to the bathroom, after they went to the bathroom, and before they leave school. And we have to do that again this afternoon.

And also, all of my desks are two metres apart from each other, and my students have to stay, as much as possible, in their chair and not move that much.

Is that difficult?

This morning, it was a bit difficult. But I talked to them about the importance of respecting that measure because, you know, we have to protect our elder people and we have to make sure that this virus is in control as much as possible. So they have to do their part.

I think with a lot of practice, we'll be pretty good at the end of the week.

What about recess and other kinds of activities like that?

I have my students for 2 1/2 hours in the morning and I don't have to go outside with them for recess. 

Between 10:40 a.m. and 1:15 p.m., they are with another educator that stays with them for lunchtime. ... During that time, they go outside. They play outside a lot. 

We spoke with a mother on Friday who had decided she wasn't going to send her kids to school. It didn't feel right for her. ... Do you think that parents like that will hear about what's going on in the classroom and be more reassured?

I hope they'll be reassured, but if there's any health issues at home that the virus could even make worse, I think it's best for them to stay home and for the kids to stay home.

But apart from that, if a parent is just worried about how things are going in school right now, I can tell them that we worked really hard last week to make sure that the school is prepared. And we did great, I think.

Today was supposed to be the worst day of the week about the measures and everything, but it went pretty well. So I think, like, in a week we'll be really pretty good and our students will be safe. So I hope some of them are reassured.

There are 'still a lot of unknowns around this whole situation,' says Joanne Henrico, the principal of Ormstown Elementary School. 3:05

Do you have any sense of what the reasons are for kids who did come back?

I think most of the parents had had some trouble at home with learning, distance learning, so they're kind of glad that we're back to school.

A lot of them have been called back to work, too. So that's the two main reasons. I think we had around 60 per cent of students coming back to school today.

In some schools, only about 13 per cent of the kids came back ... and the question becomes, you know, is there any point to this? I mean, why not just have carried this on until September?

That's a great question that I would like to ask my [premier] about off camera. 

I think they focus a lot on the importance of mental health at home and the importance of kids going back to school for that.

But at the same time, sometimes … hearing them talk, I feel that the main reason why we're back, it is for the economy, you know. And I think if that is the real reason, it's a bad one — a truly bad one, because there would be a lot of consequences for that.

But, you know, I have to believe them and trust them with their decision.

I don't want to have you stray into politics, but do you think that it's too early to come back?

I feel we are doing things a bit too quickly here in Quebec. 

I know there's a lot of people working with the statistics and studying this virus, but yeah, it felt a bit quick. 


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

 

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