Optimism buoys Quebec’s 2021-2022 COVID-19 back-to-school strategy

But plan could change in August, depending on fluctuating infection rates

Elementary and high school students in Laval, the North Shore and Montreal will be allowed to put aside face masks and attend classes outside “bubbles” this fall at the beginning of the new school year if COVID-19 pandemic conditions continue to improve, the Quebec government announced last week.

Presenting the province’s preliminary 2021-2022 school plan with Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda and delegated education minister Isabelle Charest, Education Minister Jean-François Roberge warned Quebecers not to become too excited as the agenda could be revised in August to reflect any upward swings in COVID-19 infection rates.

A normal school year

“I’m pleased with this recommendation from public health, of course, because it’s obvious that kids have better mental health when they can see each other from other classes,” Roberge told journalists during a webcast press conference.

“It’s important that the younger students can see the face of their teachers,” he added. “So, we hope we will be able to keep this plan after August, to have a normal school year.”

At the outset, the provincial government wants at least 75 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds to have received a second dose of vaccine by the time the school year starts in late August, although even that might change. As it is now, 45 per cent of those in this age group have either already received their first dose or have made an appointment for it.

Target questioned

Acknowledging that the number of children and teens who’ve already received their first dose of vaccine is still far below the 75 per cent target, Arruda pointed out that many potential recipients of the vaccine have made appointments and are expected to raise the numbers.

“I think it’s possible that we attain that level and more,” he said. “And it’s why we’re going to follow up everything. There’s going to be different communications strategies adapted to youth for this, and I think we should not be afraid.”

In addition to being able to attend classes as usual without the encumbrance of face coverings, students will be allowed to follow extra-curricular programs, including sports and elective courses.

Sanitation still necessary

However, some protocols will still be in place, including regular sanitizing of surfaces, and students as well as staff will be obliged to continue washing their hands regularly with sanitizers. Should all go well, the students have a 90 per cent chance of starting the school year off on the right foot, Dr. Arruda estimated.

‘It’s important that the younger students can see the face of their teachers,’ said Education Minister Jean-François Roberge

However, if COVID-19 surges again in Quebec, the government would re-impose the same sanitary measures as were in place for long periods since the beginning of last year when the pandemic started, although it would probably be on a more targeted and temporary basis.

Uncertainty over proms

Regarding the upcoming student graduation and prom season, Dr. Arruda said previous directives issued by the government that effectively cancelled proms are being re-evaluated.

As of last week, Arruda said he was not prepared to state firmly what course the public health department will follow in its policy for proms.

“The issue is the bal de finissants [proms] or I would say the parties with the dresses, and that is important for kids and girls and boys and the parents.

However, on June 8 Premier François Legault stated that as of July 8, once most teenagers in the province are expected to have had a first dose of the vaccine for at least two weeks, proms will be allowed outdoors and with tents.

(Note: This online version of an article published in our paper edition on June 9 was updated with new information.)