With schools reopening on Monday, the Ministry of Education says it's expecting "a very large number" of staff absences.
Earlier this week, the provincial government confirmed that Quebec schools would officially reopen on Monday. Expecting that "a very large number of employees" will get COVID-19 and have to isolate in the coming weeks, Quebec's Ministry of Education sent a backup plan to the province's educators — and it includes calling on parent volunteers to watch classrooms.
The Ministry's "contingency plan" document states that "given the current pandemic environment [and] the widespread contagion of the Omicron variant [...] the goal is to keep students at school safely, despite the high rate of anticipated absenteeism among school staff."
At a press conference on Thursday, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said it's possible parents will be asked to keep an eye on classrooms, but as a "last resort."
"It's not like we're asking parents to become teachers," he said. "A parent might come and supervise a class."
Nevertheless, the document suggests that educators prepare a list of contacts that can serve as vetted teacher replacements, ranging from other teachers to non-teacher staff members to student teachers to parent volunteers. According to CTV News, Bill 21 will not apply to parent volunteers, which means they could wear religious symbols in the classroom.
A special ministerial order created at the beginning of the pandemic "allows school personnel to be assigned where and when they are needed. It therefore allows for great flexibility in the context of a health emergency," the document says. It notes that certain "complementary services" — like speech therapy and remedial teaching — may be suspended so that staff can teach or supervise groups of students instead.
One option, presented in the document, is to have an isolated teacher leading distance learning from home while an adult supervises and supports the students who are in person in a classroom.
Another possibility is that a teacher takes on two groups of students with the "the help of another resource" and "move[s] from one room to the other" so that the students, ideally, "remain in two separate rooms to avoid potential contagion," the document says.
How have educators responded?
Unions representing school workers released a joint statement saying they're "very concerned about the conditions under which the government plans to reopen schools."
"With the new offloading announced in education, it would be possible, for example, for a janitor to be called upon to stop doing his duties in order to take care of a disabled student instead. Or, with the abolition of ratios, a single daycare teacher could be responsible for 50 or even 60 students. In short, it doesn't matter how well staff are respected or how well students are served. From now on, it seems that what matters is to stay open, whatever the cost," said Éric Pronovost, president of the Fédération du personnel de soutien scolaire.
Josée Scalabrini, president of the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement, said "we wonder if the school has not become a daycare centre rather than an environment for learning."
In a press release, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (APEQ-QPAT) reiterated its request that the Legault government:
- "Make N95 masks available to all teachers
- Install mobile HEPA air filters or air exchangers in all classes without mechanical ventilation as soon as possible
- Provide sufficient rapid screening tests to all school staff
- Review COVID-19 case management protocols for clarity, safety and consistency in their application
- Quickly assess the situation in our schools and reconsider the decision to bring all students back to classrooms"
"In a context of staff shortages, this decision, far from valuing education employees, risks demobilizing them and accelerating their departure. The burden is once again placed on school staff," said APEQ-QPAT President Heidi Yetman. "This is cause for great concern."
This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.
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