Quebec health ministry clarifies its role in the air quality in schools controversy

The Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) confirmed in a news release issued Friday that the Quebec public health department (DGSP) and the Quebec Institute of Public Health (INSPQ) have been collaborating with the Ministry of Education (MEQ) on the issue of air quality in schools, without, however, validating the MEQ protocols.

On Thursday, Radio-Canada reported that the MEQ and its minister, Jean-François Roberge, had never received approval from public health regarding the methods used to check air quality in classrooms, as the minister had publicly claimed.

Instead, the Ministry of Health said that the ministery requested the participation of the DGSP and the INSPQ, but that public health had only made recommendations regarding the methods used, without approving them.

"Last November, the MSSS public health director was consulted on the proposed study on CO2 levels in schools and commented on the proposal. The DGSP, not the Ministry of Education, then asked the INSPQ to make certain recommendations," the health ministry explained. "Several comments from the INSPQ were also forwarded to the education ministry regarding the air quality assessment protocol. The comments made by the public health experts were accepted and integrated by the MEQ."

The MSSS also claimed that public health was "consulted and commente" on the guidelines on ventilation in schools issued in January 2021.

In these guidelines, issued Jan. 9, the Ministry of Education did not recommend the installation of air purifiers in the province's schools.

Instead, it recommended that classroom windows be opened regularly to ventilate the space.

The MSSS confirmed that it had access to the results of the tests conducted by experts mandated by the MEQ, but did not indicate that public health had approved them.

"Public health is pursuing its mandate to protect the health of the population and is working with a multitude of ministries, agencies and other organisations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Quebec public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda. "With regard to the issue of air quality in schools, we have also collaborated with the MEQ according to our expertise on an ongoing basis."

MINISTER'S RESIGNATION CALLED FOR

On Thursday, Liberal official opposition leader Dominique Anglade called for Roberge's resignation as education minister, saying he lied to Quebecers every time he said public health had validated the method for sampling air quality in classrooms.

"I think the minister has really just signed his letter of resignation and has to step down, full stop," said Anglade.

Qualité de l'air en classe : l'INSPQ avait aussi critiqué le protocole
Les faits sont têtus!
C’est la 2e fois que le ministre ment sur une question importante qui touche la santé et sécurité des élèves, parents et du personnel scolaire.#Éducation https://t.co/vzgzMGIQV1

— Marwah Rizqy �� (@marwahrizqy) April 1, 2021

Quebec Solidaire (QS) co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois also argued that Roberge lied "to families, the public and parliamentarians" without asking for his resignation.

"The cat is out of the bag," he said. "What Jean-François Roberge did is very serious. He used public health as a cover for his own negligence on the air quality file."

In question period Thursday, Premier Francois Legault defended his minister, who was absent from the Salon Bleu.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2021.

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