Quebec Premier François Legault announced Wednesday night that the province has received the green light from its public health department to reopen schools as of Monday.
“Good news! The public health department is in favour of reopening elementary and high schools as of next Monday, as planned,” Legault wrote on Twitter and Facebook. “CEGEPs and universities will also be able to return in person and we will allow them a certain margin to adjust (to the reality).”
The recommendation was apparently one of the first actions taken by Dr. Luc Boileau, who replaced Horacio Arruda as Quebec’s national director of public health.
“It’s very important for children to return to school, to learn, to be back with their friends, to find a certain normal,” Legault wrote. He said most children are not at high risk of health issues related to COVID-19, but isolation and delays in education can cause serious problems.
“We know that we’ll have to adjust in the first few days, but we’ve already done that.”
Legault said higher education institutions would also be allowed to return, though Montreal-area CEGEPs and universities had already announced they would delay their return to class or implement remote learning for the first week or two at least.
Legault pointed out that 89 per cent of high school students are immunized with two doses of the vaccine, while 60 per cent of elementary school students have had their first dose already, “and their immune response is very strong at their age.” As for teachers, they are all eligible to have their third doses administered.
Legault said schools will be outfitted with rapid test kits , and all students and school personnel will be masked. He expects a positive outcome.
“It will go well and children will once again find their joie de vivre,” Legault wrote. “We owe it to our children.”
Last week, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said the province will prepare for the reopening by distributing more rapid tests to elementary schools — a total of 7.2 million by February — and providing more masks for students and personnel. Some 50,000 carbon dioxide detectors will also be added to classrooms to help judge ventilation levels.
But in the time since, pressure has mounted on the government — from unions, teachers and parents alike — to either postpone the reopening or do more to address some of the issues that have made schools prone to outbreaks.
“Right now, even with schools closed, there are concerns the health network can’t handle the increase in cases that’s forecasted,” Dr. Simona Bignami, a professor at the Université de Montréal who has studied transmission in schools during previous waves told the Montreal Gazette this week.
In an open letter published in La Presse Tuesday , more than a dozen doctors said the government needs to implement a clear plan to manage the risks brought on by the reopening.
Though they all agree children need to return to the classroom as quickly as possible, for both the students’ and their parents’ well-being, they said it can’t be done in a way that risks further burdening the hospital network.