Accusing the education minister of staying silent, Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy is calling on the province's public health director to clear up several unanswered questions surrounding the province's return to school this fall.
In an open letter published Monday, Rizqy outlined a list of questions for Dr. Horacio Arruda. She wants to know what will happen when students and staff members test positive for COVID-19 and why masks have not been made mandatory.
In June, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced that elementary and high school students across the province will be heading back to classrooms in September.
Classes for preschool up to Grade 9 will respect the regular, pre-pandemic ratios, but there will be "bubbles" of up to six students who will not have to respect the usual two-metre physical-distancing rules with those in their bubble.
For Grade 10 and 11 students, there are two options — they will either follow the same protocol as their younger peers, or they will attend school one day out of two.
So far, the government has not made masks mandatory for students but does require face coverings for preschool teachers, special-needs teachers and vocational training teachers, as well as for staff during certain situations that require close contact.
In an interview with Radio-Canada Tuesday, Rizqy said the government has been ignoring the various concerns brought up by parents and teachers in recent months.
"I was especially surprised to hear from Minister Roberge that he was giving the school systems until September 15 to submit their emergency protocols," she said.
"For me, that's too late. It's now that we need to know it. It's now that parents want to know."
Mixed messages about masks
By not recommending masks in schools, Rizqy added, the government is also contradicting itself and sending mixed messages to the province's younger population.
Students over 12 for instance, would be obliged to wear a mask on the public transit ride to school, but so far, there is nothing that states they would have to wear one upon entering their school.
"They'll start to ask themselves, well is the mask really helpful?"
Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters today that federal guidelines will come out next week and they will recommend that children over the age of 10 be required to wear masks in school.
Ontario opted to make masks mandatory for students in grade four and up last week, when it announced its plans for a return to school this fall.
Rizqy approves of that, and of other elements of Ontario's plan. The province, for instance, has established a new "school health monitoring system" that will be used to track any possible cases of COVID-19 in facilities. But there is no word on whether Quebec will have something similar.
Rizqy also wonders whether the government has any plans to set up mobile testing clinics in case of outbreaks in the schools.
In a statement to Radio-Canada Tuesday, a spokesperson for Roberge said the minister is still consulting with health authorities to make sure recommendations are up to date, "notably concerning wearing masks."
Roberge is expected to release further details of the back-to-school plan at a news conference early next week.
"In the interim, preparations will continue and we are confident that everything will be in place to welcome students and staff in a safe manner," the statement says.
But Rizqy would like to see more details released later this week, and is calling on the government to consult with professionals in the education sector before plans are finalized.
Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, expects some of the government's regulations will change next week.
"We weren't happy in June when we read the plan. We told the government that the bubbles were not a great idea," said Yetman.
"It looks great on paper but when you're a teacher in the classroom, and I taught high school for 23 years, I can't imagine how that's going to work."
Yetman fears younger children will not be able to properly understand and follow the bubble guidelines, and fears older high school students, who already deal with drama and bullying, will now have it even worse.
"We know that, high school students, when they leave the classroom, they're going to hang out with who they want," she said.
Yetman is also calling on the government to give teachers and staff more time to train and adjust to COVID-19 protocols.
Sabrina Jafralie, a teacher at Westmount High School, would like to see the government clarify its plans for online learning in case the schools are asked to shut down again.
"Currently I feel they're a little bit out of touch with how the school functions," she said.
Jafralie said that everything from locker regulations to recess and lunchtime guidelines have yet to be relayed to them.