Crisis averted – planned student walkout no longer needed
By Carmen Marie Fabio
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
All was quiet outside Westwood Senior High School the morning of April 7 after a scheduled student walkout to protest unsafe conditions due to COVID-19 was cancelled following new measures put in place by Premier François Legault the day before.
Fed up with the flip-flopping of public health advisories from the provincial government, three students from Westwood Senior High School in Hudson had organized a symbolic walkout from their classes set for Wednesday morning, April 7, to express their concerns and frustrations at being told to return to classes full time in the wake of the ‘third wave’ of the COVID-19 pandemic and its latest variant mutations.
But in a last minute reprieve, Premier François Legault reversed the March 29 decision that ordered Secondary III, IV, and V students back to school on a daily basis, citing mental health concerns of the students as the primary reason along with the difficulties encountered by remote learning.
“We’re hoping the government sees that it’s not in our best interests at the moment until teachers get vaccinated or until the weather gets warmer and we could possibly move some classes outside,” said co-organizer Alison Vincent who, along with classmates Joey Chevrier and Alicia Coleto, decided the walkout was necessary to highlight the potential dangers of full-time attendance, particularly in light of the reports of variants of the virus.
Reaction from QPAT
Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) President Heidi Yetman was also critical of the government’s decision to send all high school students back to class.
“They were in a routine since the fall,” said Yetman of the alternate day attendance, “and it was working. Students were feeling safe because they were socially distanced in the class and they were getting more one-on-one attention.” She described the decision to send everyone back en masse like a “…bomb that hit those schools. I understand why students and teachers were upset about that decision.”
“Most teachers haven’t been vaccinated and they’re one of the most vulnerable age groups right now,” said Vincent. “They’re at risk of getting sick along with the staff members and all the students also risk bringing it home to their parents.”
Vincent described the spacing in the school, particularly her classroom, as being quite cramped this year and proper social distancing isn’t possible. She added that the whole concept of everyone returning added to mental health concerns rather than relieving them.
“With the hybrid schedule (remote learning) we’re 15 students at a time. We have our own desks and were able to space out relatively well. With 30 people in the class, we’d going to be sharing desks – there’ll be a few desks with two or three people together.” Though the classroom is considered a social bubble, students take off their masks to eat and drink. Lunch also takes place in the classroom as the cafeteria is currently off limits.
Following Legault’s reversal announced April 6 in a televised newscast, Vincent told The Journal, “While I know everyone was excited about the planned walkout and protest, I am very glad the decision was made to return to the hybrid learning system. It's what we've been doing all year and it's been working relatively well. A lower number of students in one room means fewer people to spread and catch the virus. Of course, we expect this system to remain in place until all teachers and staff members are fully vaccinated and the risk lowers significantly. No solution is perfect, but this is definitely the best option we have.”