Revise Quebec’s School Plan
Revise Quebec’s School Plan
Quebec's provincial government announced its back-to-school plans in June. The policies include:
- Mandatory in-class attendance for all children with the potential for alternating days only for students in their last two years of high school.
- Children from K to Sec III will be grouped into “bubbles” of 6, within which no social distancing will be enabled. A one-meter distance is supposed to be kept between bubbles. A two-meter distance is to be kept between teachers and students.
- Masks will not be mandatory in any scenario.
- The only exemption to in-class presence is a doctor's note specifying that the child has a relevant medical vulnerability.
There are a number of problems with this plan.
1: One size does not fit all. Some families have vulnerable people at home. And some children will not only find the school environment challenging, but potentially damaging. There is no at-home, public schooling option under the present plan.
Children with mental health issues, communication and learning challenges, and/or with vulnerable family members at home, may experience significant anxiety when faced with the realities and restrictions of the pandemic school environment. This could be not only prohibitive to their learning, but emotionally or mentally damaging. Vulnerable family members will also be at risk.
These families need another option. Live streams of each classroom, for example, may be a way to enable simultaneous in-class and remote participation. There are certainly other ideas for a hybrid approach, which our teachers are best-placed to propose.
We must acknowledge that given a choice, not all families who want to keep their children at home can do so. But for those who can facilitate their children's engagement with school-led home learning, it may well be as essential to their children's well-being and education as being in class is to others, and it will mean fewer children in the schools - better for everyone, for now.
2: The body of scientific knowledge about COVID-19 is changing by the day, making June's information out of date. Ignoring the latest findings in school planning amounts to public health negligence.
Current evidence points to the need to:
Limit the number of people in any indoor space and their proximity to each other, regardless of their ages
- children have recently been found to be as infectious as adults
- the current plan does not add space; the same number of children will be in each class (bubbles or not), except in Secondary IV and V where children may alternate days in 50% cohorts at each school's discretion
- a distance of 1 meter between bubbles of children is likely pointless, according to the latest research
Address airborne transmission and ventilation dynamics
- evidence is building that airborne transmission and the role of ventilation systems are important factors, yet are entirely unaddressed by the back-to-school plan
Consider masks for anyone old enough and free of preventive issues
- the efficacy of mask-wearing is clear enough that the government has mandated it for ages 12 and up in all public indoor spaces, but not in schools for kids of any age
Recognize the folly of making predictions about the course of illness in any individual or category of individuals at this early point with a novel virus
- cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children [MIS-C] continue to be reported; predisposing factors are not yet clear
- “long-haul” cases of COVID-19 continue to mount; this manifestation is not yet understood, no treatment exists, and predisposing factors are unclear
- the number of children becoming infected has increased over the summer, without gathering in schools
- we have zero long-term data for those infected with SARS-CoV-2
These realities need to be considered and addressed as thoroughly as possible before we send virtually all of our children into over-crowded, poorly ventilated schools, and back home each evening to a multitude of family scenarios.
3: Lastly, from public comments made by teachers and school board representatives, it seems neither has been sufficiently consulted about school plans. There can be no effective solution to the complex issue of educating children during a pandemic without the insight, expertise, and buy-in of the people who do it.
Teachers are the best placed to propose the most workable scenarios that will address the range of needs represented in their classrooms, including remote learning, and which resources and technologies might best be engaged. In fact, there's no lack of technology or innovative ideas - only a lack of listening, adequate budget, and action on the part of the government.
The current approach is simplistic and inadequate with the potential to do serious harm.
We demand that the Minister of Education provide families the choice between in-person and distance learning, and dedicate the money and resources to the school system to make it happen.
We demand that the government revise its in-school policies in light of current scientific knowledge about COVID-19, for the safety of all teachers, staff, students, and family members. These revisions must address the number of people per room, the appropriate use of masks, and ventilation issues.
We demand that the government study the possibility of testing all students, teachers, and staff in the two weeks prior to each school's start date.
And we demand that schooling decisions and policies be taken in collaboration with school boards and teachers' groups, with a spirit of innovation, so that the best possible outcomes may be achieved.
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