'School boards do not have the legal power to delay opening schools,' minister

The Quebec government says school boards that want to decide when to open, regardless of the deadline, don’t have the legal right to take matters into their own hands. 

The Quebec government announced that schools outside the Montreal region and those within it would reopen on May 11 and 19 respectively.

“English school boards do not have the legal power to delay school openings,” said the office of the Minister of Education Jean-Francois Roberge, in an email on Sunday. “It is an exclusive jurisdiction of the Government of Quebec.”

Friday, the English school boards sent a notice to Roberge, telling him that they will reopen their elementary schools “if and when” they consider the situation safe.

“It is up to public health experts to judge whether the sanitary conditions for a gradual return to class are met, not to elected school officials,'' said Roberge. “Our decision was approved by the Directorate of Public Health, which considered all the dimensions of the health of our students. Remember that according to the Association of Pediatricians, prolonged confinement could have a harmful effect on children’s development and their mental health.”

The Quebec government emphasized that school boards “must continue their efforts toward a gradual, prudent and non-compulsory reopening on the dates previously stated.”

English school boards deplored the lack of consultation before Roberge announced his plan for the gradual reopening of elementary schools.

Sunday, the Quebec government said that it wouldn’t hesitate to backtrack if the situation wasn’t suitable for reopening school at the scheduled time.

Schools have been closed since March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Monday, Premier Francois Legault announced the school reopening schedule, with certain conditions. For example, there will be a maximum of 15 students per class allowed. 

This return to school is voluntary, and no parent will be forced to send their children to class, said Legault.

This article by La Presse Canadienne was first published on May 3, 2020.

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