Teachers' unions, parents group say Quebec schools should stay open during pandemic

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MONTREAL — Quebec's two main teachers' unions and a prominent parents group say they're opposed to closing schools in the province despite rising cases of COVID-19.

The unions and parents group reacted Friday to recent comments from Premier Francois Legault, who said his government was considering extending the winter break to keep children home. 

As of Wednesday, more than 1,200 classrooms across the province were closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks. The data from the Health Department also indicated more than 2,330 students and 700 school staff members had active cases of COVID-19.

And yet, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, which represents teachers at English-language schools, along with a federation representing teachers at French-language schools, said Friday they did not support extending the winter break. 

Corrine Payne, general director of the parents' group Federation des comites de parents du Quebec, said her organization is worried about the long-term effects school closures could have on children. 

At a press conference on Friday morning, Parti Quebecois education critic Veronique Hivon said the government needs to do more to improve ventilation in schools. The day before, Legault said the province's public health department had not found any links between the spread of COVID-19 in schools and ventilation problems.

On Friday, health authorities said there were 417 active COVID-19 outbreaks in educational institutions in Quebec, representing slightly more than 27 per cent of all active outbreaks in the province. 

The province reported 1,301 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 30 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, nine of which occurred in the previous 24 hours. Health officials said the number of hospitalizations remained stable at 583, and that 85 people were in intensive care, a drop of one.

A government-funded health institute called the INESSS said it didn't expect COVID-related hospitalizations to exceed dedicated capacity in the health network over the next four weeks. It warned, however, the number of COVID-19 cases among people over 70 years old and those who have underlying health conditions is rising.

Quebec has reported a total of 121,195 infections, 102,569 recoveries, and 6,586 deaths linked to the virus.  Authorities say one death previously attributed to COVID-19 has been determined to be unrelated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2020.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version carried an incorrect title for Corrine Payne.