Teacher worried for health of son forced to stay home, with no salary

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By Matt Grillo, CTV News Montreal 

A Montreal teacher is staying out of the classroom and forgoing a year of salary after being told she must teach from a classroom, despite having a high-risk child at home.

Rebecca Bellmonte said she made the decision to not go back to work for the sake of her son, seven-year-old Samih, who was born with a congenital heart defect. While Samih was given approval from his doctors to study online, Bellmonte was told by her superiors she would have to physically be present in the classroom.

“Within a space of two weeks, my husband and I sat down and said 'Well, listen, the priority is the health of our son,'” she said. “Therefore, I called my union, I tried to find out what were my options.”

Bellmonte had hoped to be able to teach from home via the Internet, but was told her only option was to stay at home for a year and not collect a salary.

“I would be teaching 14 groups and be exposed to over 300 students a week,” she said.

In a statement, the Education Ministry said the health of a family member is not a criteria for exemption. But Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers president Heidi Yetman said that only hurts a provincial education system that's already short on teachers.

“It's possible the school board needed her in the classroom and since it wasn't an exemption that was allowed, the school board made the decision, obviously, to make her work inside the classroom,” she said.

Bellmonte and her husband have adjusted their budget for the year, but worry about what could happen if the pandemic drags on.

“Saying you're going down to one salary for one year and knowing my job is still there when I go back, if I go back next year, is one thing,” she said. “But to say I get multiple years in a row is not something that is usually accepted.”

Bellmonte said she hopes Samih can one day return to school. But for now, both will stay home as his health remains paramount.  

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