When will school resume? What we know, province by province

Elementary school teachers are back in classrooms in Quebec Monday, the first province in Canada to do so, but with young students unable to play together or sit near one another, there are ongoing concerns over how the process will work and how safe it will be for both children and their teachers.

With more than 31,500 COVID-19 cases and more than 2,200 deaths, Quebec has by far the highest number of cases and deaths - nearly double that of the second-worst hit province, Ontario, on both counts.

Across Quebec, staff are returning to work in preparation for the reopening of elementary schools and daycares on May 11, with Montreal to follow a week after that. One of the key aims for the early move is to help support students in the province with special needs, according to Premier Francois Legault, who has said that parents are not obligated to send their children back to school.

“I think all teachers are feeling very concerned about having to set up classrooms with all the restrictions that we need to put in place in a very short period of time,” said Cheryl Villeneuve, a Grade 4 teacher in Quebec, on CTV’s Your Morning.

“There are a lot of people that have no choice. They will have to send their child to school and they’re very worried.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to weigh in on decisions regarding school closures and openings Monday, because education is a provincial responsibility and not federal, but did offer his view as a parent when asked about ensuring student and teacher safety when sending them back to school.

“Looking at what sort of social distancing measures will be in place, what are the kids going to do at recess, what are the kids going to do lunch, looking at how many kids are going to be in a classroom, how my kids are going to be kept safe are things that all parents are thinking about … before we move forward with the next steps,” he told reporters.

Teachers and parents have also expressed fears about bringing the virus home to their own families, and the feasibility of keeping young children apart from one another and getting them to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, especially if the school’s washroom facilities are limited or in need of repair.

Some of the key considerations and measures that will be implemented include:

  • Class sizes will be limited to 15 students
  • Masks will be worn by daycare workers
  • Bus service is expected to be reduced and at least one school board has said that only one child will be allowed on each bus bench
  • Students will have their own working space and stay in one classroom throughout the day
  • Students might not get their original teacher back
  • Common areas like libraries, cafeterias, gyms, music and art classrooms will remain closed
  • There will be no gym or music class
  • Students will need to bring their own food since hot lunches will not be provided
  • Outdoor play will be organized to maintain physical distancing requirements
  • Parents and children with health problems have been advised to stay home

“We’re talking about having to provide emotional support and guidance to children from a two-metre distance while in the school,” Villeneuve said, who has an underlying health condition herself.

“I’m going to continue to work with my students from a distance as I’ve been doing with Zoom, and giving them emotional support, giving their family support, any type of needs that they have, whether it’d be food - because I do work in a lower socioeconomic neighbourhood.”

Some advocates for a gradual reopening include the association that represents Quebec pediatricians, who wrote in an open letter last month that it was “not only welcome, but it is also necessary.”

"In the absence of the social safety net represented by daycare centres and schools, with the decrease in primary care, it is clear that the collateral damage from prolonged confinement is already vast and worrying," they wrote in the letter.

So far,Quebec remains the only province with a clear timeline for reopening schools. Others provinces have either not made a definitive announcement yet, or have already stated that they will remain closed for the remainder of the school year.

“We really don’t know enough about this virus right now to be opening up the schools completely,” said Villeneuve. “We’re given a very short time to mobilize. Teachers are resilient and so are children, but do we need more time and we need more information.”

WHAT OTHER PROVINCES AND TERRITORIES HAVE SAID ON SCHOOLS

British Columbia: Premier John Horgan said last week that school “as we know it” will not likely return until the fall. Some in-classroom instruction is taking place for a few thousand children of some essential workers and those that are vulnerable and need more support.

Alberta: Schools will remain closed for the remainder of this school year, according to Premier Jason Kenney. Schools could start earlier in the fall to make up for lost time.

Saskatchewan: Schools remain closed indefinitely.

Manitoba: There are no immediate plans to reopen schools, according to Premier Brian Pallister.

Ontario: Public schools will remain closed until at least May 31, according to education minister Stephen Lecce.

New Brunswick: Schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year, unless the COVID-19 situation drastically improves.

Nova Scotia: Public schools and daycares will remain closed until at least May 19, Premier Stephen McNeil said.

Prince Edward Island: Public schools are closed until at least May 11, but the province has said that the education department was looking at options. “I think it’s safe to say that school as we know it for this term will not go back to what it was prior to March Break,” Premier Dennis King said.

Newfoundland and Labrador: Schools remain closed indefinitely.

Yukon: Face-to-face classes at all public schools are suspended for the remainder of the school year.

Northwest Territories: Schools are closed for the remainder of the school year.

Nunavut: All schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year.

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