A Covid-Conscious Safe Plan for the Return to School In QC

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The ministry of education announced the plan for the upcoming school year. It’s not particularly the safe Covid-conscious plan we’ve been hoping for. I am very troubled by this “plan” proposed by the ministry of education and the director of public Health. According to Global news: “masks will not be mandatory in the classroom.” However, “They will be obligatory in common areas and hallways in schools for older elementary school, high school and post-secondary students as well as teachers and staff.” 

In addition to that, when asked why masks are not mandatory in the classroom, the director of public Health or Quebec said that it would be too difficult for children and teens. “Wearing a mask all the day is difficult for an adult, so imagine for kids,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda. If I can dance for three hours while wearing a mask, why can’t students wear masks in class? 

In addition, the province’s initial plan was to make small groups of six within a classroom to form a bubble. However, Roberge has changed the plan.  “instead, the bubble “has been enlarged to include the entire class.””

Despite this all, “Quebec is also maintaining an option for students in Grades 10 and 11 to physically attend classes one out of every two days, if their school cannot organize stable classroom bubbles.”

What concerns me even more is the following: “Students will not have to practise physical distancing in class, but they must remain at least two metres apart from one another in common spaces.” Generally, from what I’ve noticed, class sizes range from 20-28 in Elementary school. In high school, class sizes can range from 28-30 and sometimes close to 40 students. The numbers make it impossible to socially distance, as is... Given the fact that physical distancing won’t be practiced in the classroom, the possibility of transmission rises considerably. 
Plus, it has yet to be revealed if teachers will get Covid-19 tests prior to entering the school premises. It hasn’t been made clear if hand sanitizing dispensers will be installed and available. Not to mention that no one has confirmed wether or not the temperature of students and teachers will be taken prior to entering the premises. 
Now, students with medical conditions that can be worsened by the novel coronavirus are allowed to access remote learning. As well as children with immunocompromised family members. Teachers who are immunocompromised are permitted to remain home. But medical notes are becoming increasingly hard to obtain!!

However, what about the kids who are anxious about going to school due to Covid-19? What about the parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school mid-pandemic? Especially on the brink of a second wave. What about the kids who easily get sick,  despite not being immunocompromised? What about the kids who are undiagnosed but probably immunocompromised? What about the kids with severe anxiety surrounding this pandemic? They shouldn’t be forced to go into a school building as it will cause even more anxiety. What about protecting children and teachers and staff? Lives are being put at risk. This is not okay. The fight is NOT over. 

Dr Marty Teltscher, an Infectious Diseases specialist and medical microbiologist at the Jewish General has some concerns about these protocols.

All in the link below: https://m.facebook.com/709765152/posts/10163841348890153/#_=_

A letter written by Tanya Toledano to Legault and Dr. Arruda states similar concerns:

https://montrealmom.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/covid-19/open-letter-dr-arruda-premier-legault/ 

Here are some quotes from the letter that highlight the importance of this issue:

“Dr. Arruda: Did you really compare keeping a child home because of the pandemic to keeping them home with ‘a little cold’? If I heard you correctly, you said ‘Would we stop a child from going to school with a little cold with no fever? I don’t think so.’ I don’t even know what to say…. Did I actually hear Minister Roberge state that once in class, if kids want to wear masks and are comfortable, they can but that they don’t have to?  Did he watch all of the same press conferences that I did, stating that masks do not protect the wearer but the others in the vicinity? How does this jive with the studies that tell us that in order for masking to work all parties present must be wearing masks? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?”

“What about children with parents who would like to avoid health issues for their children and for themselves? Why not offer parents the choice of distance learning?  Imagine if parents who can afford from a financial and /or time and/or mental health perspective to keep their children home to distance learn actually kept their kids home, then there would be less kids in the classroom rendering it safer for those whose parents need them to be in school because they do not have the flexibility to keep them home. What is the reason that this is not an option? You speak of the mental health of kids…yet so many kids are having anxiety about the return back to school…some even having nightmares.”
“You rationalize opening up events and festivals because people have learned to keep their distance and are masking- none of these things will be the case in the classroom setting – a limited enclosed, indoor space that will surely contain a gathering of more than 10 people for approximately 8 hours per day, with no masks and no distancing. And yet we continue to limit our family gatherings to 10 people? Constantly reminding grandparents and cousins to remain at a 2-meter distance?”

To conclude, I propose the following safety measures and protocols:

• Mandatory Covid-19 testing for ALL teachers and staff prior to the start of school.

• Daily temperature check of all students, teachers, staff before entering the school 

• Several sanitizing stations must be installed around the school in easily accessible areas.

•Masks should be MANDATORY at all times. (ONLY exception: eating or drinking)

• Ventilation systems in schools need to be improved (and funded by the government)

• Students should not be punished for not wanting to pursue in person learning. We are living through a pandemic. It’s understandable that people are concerned. It’s valid. Forcing a child that is terrified to go back to school due to the lack of proper safety measures, is not okay. It can cause so much anxiety for them and could potentially lead to trauma. 

• Remote learning should be accessible to all. Immunocompromised or Not. Parents and children should be allowed to make the decision of wether they want to pursue in person or online learning. After all, Covid-19 can be deadly. Health comes first for some. Should a family/child feel uncomfortable with online learning, this is especially important. (On top of that, allowing students to choose online learning will make the in school environment safer. It decreases the risk of spread because there will be less people.)

All in all, as a student, I am urging the government to improve the Covid-conscious school safety protocols and allow anyone who feels uncomfortable with in person learning to have access to online learning.