Quebec reacts to QESBA demand government change dates for schools re-opening

Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge says the province’s English-language school boards don’t have a right to set their own timetable for re-opening, as life begins to return to a semblance of normalcy in the midst of the COVID-19 panmedic.

Roberge was reacting on Sunday May 3 to a statement issued on May 1 by the Quebec English School Boards Association. The QESBA said leaders of its nine member school boards would decide for themselves when classes will resume – but they won’t necessarily be following the strict timeline assigned by the provincial department of education.

“English school boards don’t have the legal power to push back the opening of school establishments,” a spokesperson for the education minister’s office said in an e-mail sent to two Montreal media outlets. A few days earlier, the QESBA maintained it had the legal authority to set its own agenda.

“While no English school board will reopen any of its schools and centres earlier than the dates proposed by the Government of Quebec, the respective English School Boards will decide if and when each of their schools and centres may reopen, once they determine that all the conditions required can be met in each instance,” said the QESBA.

“As of April 30, there are still far too many unknowns that compromise the ability of school boards to safely and effectively reopen schools,” said QESBA president Dan Lamoureux. “Our assessment is that the implementation of these measures will vary significantly in different school boards and regions and may not even be possible in some areas,” he added. “We are also convinced that the international health considerations cannot be met in many schools by the deadlines the government is imposing.”

Lamoureux said that the member school boards “wish to respectfully remind the Government of Quebec and the Minister of Education that we continue to assert our legal & constitutional authority to control and manage our minority language school system and it remains our public responsibility to make the right decisions for our communities.

“Rather than inspiring confidence in the public, this hastily announced plan by the government has had the effect of significantly raising anxiety and stress levels among teachers and parents in particular, as well as the general population,” he continued. “This is clearly evidenced by a petition to delay school reopening until September, already signed by over a quarter of a million citizens. We believe that local school boards are best placed to determine when and under what conditions schools and centres should open.”

According to the provincial government’s plan, grade schools and daycares are scheduled to reopen starting on May 11 outside the greater Montreal region, although class sizes will be limited. In Montreal, in Laval and in the surrounding suburbs, daycares and grade schools will open May 19. As for high schools, colleges and universities, they are not scheduled to reopen until late August. The government has also said the return to school on that timeline is not mandatory.

Martin C. Barry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for the Laval News,