Teachers in quarantine and a temporary shutdown mark Day 2 of back to school in Quebec

Teachers in quarantine and a temporary shutdown mark Day 2 of back to school in Quebec

On only the second day back in class for thousands of Quebec students, problems at several schools — including a temporary shutdown and more than a dozen teachers in quarantine — served to illustrate the challenges ahead amid the pandemic.

At Polyvalente Deux-Montagnes in the Lower Laurentians, students in grades 9 and 10 were told to stay home Friday after a teacher tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the second staff member to catch the disease.

The school also placed roughly 20 more teachers in preventive isolation.

Students are likely to return to school Monday, if the school can get the replacement staff necessary.

Marie-Ève Couturier, whose son is among those required to stay home, wants to know when the school discovered there was a positive case.

"Why did classes start yesterday?" she asked.

Sylvain Mallette, president of the Fédération autonome de l'enseignement, which represents a third of Quebec's teachers, said the rocky start at Deux-Montagnes signals there will be trouble ahead.

Mallette said the province's Health Ministry promised faster testing for teachers would be in place.

On Friday, Premier François Legault acknowledged the situation wasn't ideal, especially given the province is already short on teachers.

But he stressed it was a "very small number" affected, when considering the hundreds of thousands of students returning to class across the province.

"I hope it continues to be very limited," he said.

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In Montreal's Ahuntsic neighbourhood, Sophie-Barat high school sent a letter to parents saying it would shut down on Monday and Tuesday to get better organized and ensure classes are held under "optimal conditions."

The school announced only two weeks ago it would need to relocate some students to the old St. Dorothy Elementary School, formerly part of the English Montreal School Board, while its aging building undergoes emergency structural repairs.

That raised concern among parents their children would be forced to take public transit during the pandemic to get to a school five kilometres away.

Marie-Isabelle Rochon/Radio-Canada
Marie-Isabelle Rochon/Radio-Canada

There were other problems on Thursday, the first day back for many across the province.

Collège Français, a high school on Montreal's South Shore, sent home an entire class after learning the father of one student had tested positive for the virus.

The school's principal, Chantal Dubé, said she was frustrated that public health authorities took several hours to return a call asking for guidance about what to do.

In the end, she was told the situation required that only the child of the infected parent be sent home.

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Dr. Gaston De Serres, an epidemiologist at the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec, said cases in schools are to be expected in the coming days and weeks, given that the virus is still present in the community.

The big challenge is now, he said, to make sure that "transmission will be minimized in schools."