Quebec Premier François Legault's suggestion of a longer winter holiday for students in the province is raising questions and concerns in the Outaouais region.
Legault said the government is studying whether to extend the holiday break to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and make up lost instructional time in June or even July.
Currently, 1,174 classrooms in Quebec have been closed due to the coronavirus, more than 300 of them during a 48-hour period this week.
It really is a balancing act - Mike Dubeau, Western Québec School Board
Amanda DeGrace has three children at Chelsea Elementary School, where there have been no cases so far.
"With all the upheaval that the children had last year, and the challenges for the education staff of getting everyone back to school the end of August, things have been going fairly smoothly," she said.
DeGrace fears the closure would leave working parents with few child-care options, and could leave some children further behind.
Mike Dubeau, director-general of the Western Québec School Board (WQSB), said he's awaiting details from the province, including whether schools will be closed earlier, or the break will be extended into January.
He said student safety is the priority, but there are concerns about how educators will make up for lost time and eventually reestablish routines.
"It really is a balancing act," Dubeau said.
Different zones, different rules?
Dubeau said there have been 25 cases of COVID-19 within the WQSB, and none within the board's northern region. Currently, Gatineau and MRC des Collines-de-l'Outaouais are considered red zones, the highest level on the province's colour-coded scale, while the rest of the Outaouais remains orange, with fewer restrictions in place.
"If that means one set of rules for one group of students and one set of rules for another set, if that's what's best for students, then that's what we'll do, regardless of the complexity," Dubeau said.
Tasha Ausman, a math and science teacher at Philemon-Wright Secondary School in Gatineau, said while there have been cases there, they weren't transmitted within the school.
"If none of the schools in Gatineau has more than one or two cases from now until December, can this be done by zone, as opposed to cancelling a school year or extending a break for everybody in the whole province?" she asked.
Ausman said it's been frustrating to learn of the province's proposal through news reports, and said teachers need time to prepare for such changes. She's also wary of extending school into the summer.
"If you're to bring school into July it could be a real health concern, especially as classrooms get extremely humid," she said.
Suzanne Tremblay, president of the French-language teachers union in the Outaouais, said the province should move to an online learning program instead of rearranging the school year.
The Centre de services scolaires des Draveurs, one of four French public school boards in the region, said extending the school year into the summer may also eat into the time needed for renovations to its aging schools. The board said it has not been consulted about the province's proposal.