Quebec education union supports schools reopening but would like air purifiers reconsidered
The union representing Quebec's education professionals agrees with the province's plan to reopen schools starting Monday though it is calling for the government to reconsider its take on air purifiers in classrooms and consider its treatment of the province's educators.
"We salute Roberge's plan," said CSQ (Centrale des syndicats du Quebec) vice-president Anne Dionne in a Zoom news conference Sunday. "Everybody's happy that students will be returning to class because it's a better environment to be in."
However, not all teachers agree with that statement. Kevin Saunders, a teacher at St. Thomas High School who oversees a Facebook group with thousands of Quebec teachers as members, said many are on edge about returning.
"The rules that are in place for everybody else in society aren't in classrooms," he said. "Other essential services, at least they have the right to social distancing. Everyone in their place of business is wearing a mask at all times. Teachers appear to be the only exception to that rule."
Saunders noted that class sizes can sometimes still be as large as 30 students, with high school students not required to wear masks at lunch.
"You've got kids from potentially 10 different bubbles, they're all hanging out with their masks off, eating their sandwich, drinking from water bottles, and they're allowed to," he said. "From the beginning, teachers weren't happy. They were terrified to go back."
Dionne said concern remains about certain safety issues such as air quality.
"We are not making the rules, We are going within the rules," said Dionne. "We're going to make sure that all the measures that are indicated will be put forward. We're going to make sure that all the measures that need to be there will be put there."
CSQ president Sonia Ethier said the union is urging Quebec Minister of Education Jean-Francois Roberge not to rule out the use of air purifiers in classrooms too hastily.
"The minister seems to be saying that their presence in classrooms and the noise that these devices produce would be disturbing for the students' concentration," said Ethier. "I think he is jumping a little too quickly to conclusions."
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Ethier added that the minister doubted other public health measures early in the pandemic.
"Recall that not so long ago the minister doubted the need to wear masks in class, although his perspective has since changed," she said. "The issue of air purifiers undoubtedly deserves more thought as well."
Doctor Richard Masse, strategic medical adviser to Quebec's director of public health, explained Friday that air purifiers, if they were improperly installed, could be harmful, because they would rewarm droplets in the air. To be effective, he added, these devices must be aimed at those that emit problematic droplets, which is hard to know in a classroom.
However, according to Ethier, support staff in schools are quite skilled in properly installing air purifiers.
The CSQ welcomed the recent decision by the government to include teachers and other educators as priority groups to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but would like Quebec to include all education personnel in the priority group.
Ethier said the union's priority in 2021 will be negotiations with the Francois Legault government.
"The pandemic has highlighted the serious state of disorganization in which our health care system finds itself following significant cutbacks in recent years," said Ethier. "The situation is not much better in education and higher education networks, where poor working conditions threaten the state's ability to guarantee services to the population. After the health crisis, there is a working conditions crisis, which the government can only resolve by putting an end to the shameless exploitation of public sector workers, which has lasted too long."
The CSQ said in its news release that strikes are likely by the end of January.
"Despair and anger are rampant among our 125,000 public sector members, and this is translating into significant support for a strike," said Ethier.
Shortage of places remain in early childhood centres, the union says, and the network is suffering from an "unprecedented labour shortage."
The union would also like to see more services offered to those suffering from mental illnesses in the network.