Quebec to delay report cards, cancel provincial exams as schools set to reopen

Delayed report cards, additional sanitary measures and cancellation of provincials exams are some of the new steps the province is taking as schools get set to reopen, amid high COVID-19 numbers that are worrying many parents in the province.

With elementary schools set to reopen Monday and secondary schools the week after, Quebec Minister of Education Jean-Francois Roberge addressed the province Friday.

"Unlike other places in the world, we have always prioritized the presence of students in the classroom, and we are eager to continue in this direction in 2021," said Roberge.

"To ensure that our students continue to learn, socialize and develop in under the best possible conditions, we are updating our plan today by making new adjustments that take into account both the health situation and the educational situation in our schools."

He said the province would institute tutoring for students and that the first report card would be delayed to Feb. 5 from Jan. 22. The first report card will be given less weight than the second when determining the students' overall grade for the year. 

A bank of tutors will be created, made up of volunteer school staff, retirees as well as college and university students to support students in need of help. The service will be free. 

By the end of the month, he said, parents will be able to fill out forms for tutoring help. Online forums will also be available.

He also said provincial exams for primary and secondary students would be cancelled. 

He said a document on "essential knowledge to be taught" will soon be available for parents and teachers.

He also said he was instituting various measures to help students struggling with mental health issues including a "chat app" for their smartphones.

"We are convinced that the new measures announced will not only reduce the pressure on students, their parents and staff, but also give extra support to those students who need it most and thus end this exceptional school year with strength," said Roberge.

AIR QUALITY

Director of public health Dr. Richard Masse said the government is not advising installing air filtration or purifier devices that have already been put in many schools.

"It has not been demonstrated clearly that it limits transmission." he said adding that it might actually do some harm in spreading the virus by moving particles around the room.

He added that if a school board wants to buy an air filtration unit, they should get authorization from external authorities, such as the workers' safety board, but the government does not recommend using them.

Masse said that if there is a serious problem within a class, the room should not be used for teaching or gathering.

After multiple reports on the sub-par air quality in many classrooms in the province, Roberge said air sampling is underway and testing has been carried out at 330 schools.

A new provincial study on school air quality was released Friday as well, reporting that three per cent of the premises tested require immediate intervention. 

One Montreal-area school board pushed back against Masse's comments: the Lester B. Pearson School Board says it plans to continue using the HEPA filters it bought for its buildings.

"The decision to purchase and install the upgraded filters and HEPA air purifiers was made after consulting best practices in other jurisdictions around the world," the board wrote in a release Friday afternoon.

Board officials have studied the Quebec report released earlier today, they said, but they also "acted based on scientific studies conducted by, amongst others, Harvard University, Yale University, the [U.S. CDC public health agency] and the World Health Organization."

Those sources had their own recommendations "regarding the types of benefits the purifiers and filters offer," the board wrote.

The English Montreal School Board and at least one local scientist also said they were baffled by the government's statement.

NEW MASK RULES

Grade 1 and 2 students in elementary school are now required to wear a mask indoors, in common areas and on school buses, while masks remain required from all students above Grade 5.

For those wanting to take advantage of distanced education, the minister announced that computers will be available for all. 

"We can now confirm that all school service centres have enough computer equipment to meet the needs of all elementary and secondary students who do not have equipment dedicated at home," the ministry said in a news release.

Roberge also said that teachers and school staff will be able to receive vaccinations before the general population, and after health-care workers and residents in long-term care homes.

The most recent update on novel coronavirus cases in schools published Wednesday reports that there are 259 confirmed active cases in the public school system (184 students, 74 staff members) and 41 in the private school system (29 students, 12 staff).

The total number of schools that have reported at least one positive COVID-19 case is 199.

From the beginning of the school year to Dec. 22, 2020, the province reported 21,410 positive cases (17,372 students, 4,038 parents) in both public and private schools. 

Many voices have criticized the government's decision to reopen schools as COVID-19 cases rise.

LISTEN to political analyst Tom Mulcair on CJAD 800 radio: Why is the CAQ government not listening to science when it comes to schools?

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