• Nick Zacharias

Holding your breath for back to school?


PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS

Though not required on the outdoor play equipment at the Hudson Yacht Club, kids have grown accustomed to carrying their masks with them and they are heading back to an entirely new academic experience this year as the COVID-19 pandemic will require certain changes in the school setting.

This time of year typically brings thoughts (often eager, occasionally less so) of the return to school, though this year looks to be anything but typical. While parents and kids alike brace for the excitement and the challenges of going back to school after such a protracted time away, schools have issued communications to try to spell out what the return will look like.

Welcome back

“Welcome back from March Break,” one school administrator was heard to have written in a message to teachers, a humorously disarming but also pointed reminder that lots of kids – various levels of engagement in last spring’s remote learning efforts notwithstanding – have more or less been out of ‘school mode’ since last March. Going back to class after a six-month hiatus from setting foot in the building will be an adjustment to be sure, not to mention how much of an adjustment it will be once you add the COVID-19 risk reduction measures being put in place.

On that front, area schools are reiterating what policies will be in order to make the transition as smooth as possible. While it is clear what most of the policies will look like (for distancing and mask-wearing in class, for example) some have recently changed and others are not yet fully available. The planned organization of elementary school kids into ‘bubbles’ within the classroom, for example, has been dropped in favour of an approach where the class as a whole is treated as a mask-free bubble so long as students are in the classroom.

General guidelines

Individual elementary schools and secondary schools within the public English and French systems, as well as private institutions, have all sent out reminders of what to expect. Their messages generally follow policies (sometimes with helpful pictograms) set out by Quebec Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge.

As far as masks go, they will not be forced on students in class, and they will be completely discretionary for students in Grade 4 or lower according to the ministry. They will however be required for all visitors to schools, and students in Grade 5 or above will be obligated to don masks when venturing out of the classroom into common areas (such as hallways or to visit the washroom). The rule for masks in common areas (outside of classrooms) will apply for students all the way down to grade one at Collège Bourget in Rigaud.

Masks will not be required while outdoors for recess periods, but efforts will be made to avoid the mixing of class groups. These efforts include designating sectors for different classes and, in some cases, shortening time outdoors to allow for a rotation of students. Elementary students who are not outdoors will eat lunch and remain ‘bubbled’ within their classrooms.

PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS

The schoolyard at Hudson’s Mount Pleasant elementary is quiet for now, in anticipation of an exciting return to school but one with new COVID-19 precautions like frequent hand washing, masks on busses and efforts in place to keep students from different groups distanced from each other.

Elementary school transport changing

Because of the close quarters and mixing of groups being inevitable on a school bus, masks are a necessity while riding transport to school. In an effort to reduce the number of students on the bus, parents are being actively encouraged to consider driving or having kids walk to school. Further, the guidelines have shifted for the minimum distance within which school bus transport is deemed necessary – now students from Grades 3 to 6 who live within 1,600 metres of their school, rather than the previous 1,200 metres, will not be offered transport. The minimums remain at 400 metres for kindergarteners and 1,200 for kids in Grades 1 and 2.

In a communication from the Service des ressources financières et du transport at the recently renamed Centre de services scolaire des Trois-Lacs, these measures are considered temporary. Unfortunately for affected families, final plans for routes and who is allowed on them won’t be available until the week of August 24, for students planning a return to school on August 28.

All in without a doctor’s note

Unlike in Ontario, the new rules will apply across the board and all students will be expected to appear in person unless they can produce a doctor’s note explaining why they, or someone in their home environment, are specifically at higher risk from COVID-19. Only those at risk will be offered remote learning, while any who stay out of school without medical cause will have to fall under the umbrella of homeschooling.

This lack of choice in schooling has prompted a lawsuit against the Quebec government by some parents uncomfortable with the idea of sending their kids to school in the era of COVID -19, while others view it as more in the common good for kids to get back to in-person learning with its inherent structure and opportunities for social interaction. Many, including Quebec’s chief medical officer Dr. Horacio Arruda, cite a recent Australian study showing that children specifically are rarely significantly ill from this virus (unlike the flu) and they are not, to a great degree, vectors of transmission to others around them.

While opinions do vary widely on the subject, what is certain is that this will be a different-looking back to school from previous years, and in this time of rapid change it is almost certain that whatever the policies are now, there will have to be openness to more change as the year unfolds.

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