Quebec won’t require students in primary and secondary schools to wear masks once they are sitting at their desks this fall.
Teachers will also not be required to wear masks if they can maintain the two-metre distance. The province will also no longer maintain classroom bubbles.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge made the announcement Wednesday in laying out his back-to-school plan as the province faces the beginning of a fourth wave of COVID-19.
At a news conference, Roberge said the high vaccination rate among 12- to 17-year-olds allowed for an easing of restrictions.
As it stands, 82 per cent of teens in that age group have received a dose of vaccine, and 48 per cent have received both. Roberge said he expects at least 77 per cent will be fully vaccinated by the time classes resume.
But he said the increased presence of the more contagious delta variant has led the province to maintain mask requirements in common areas, despite having said in June they would not be necessary in the fall.
Isabelle Charest, the province’s junior education minister, said sports and other activities would also be permitted, though a vaccination passport could be required in some cases.
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Province seeks to walk ‘narrow path’
The revised measures will also apply to students under 12, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
Dr. Yves Jalbert, deputy director of public health protection for Quebec, acknowledged there are risks in allowing more interaction among students.
“We have to walk a narrow path between allowing students to come back to a normal way of life and fighting this pandemic,” he said.
“This is the position that we have right now about the class bubbles. We’ll see what happens and we are following the situation very closely.”
Roberge also addressed concerns over ventilation in classrooms, a controversy that led to legal action from teachers’ associations.
Last year, Quebec’s Education Ministry promised to have CO2 detectors in every class by the beginning of the school year, but later revised its target to say it would have them installed by the end of fall 2021.
At a technical briefing this morning, officials said the province would install 90,000 detectors in all classrooms across the province starting in September through the end of December.
Radio-Canada reported Wednesday that Quebec didn’t publish its call for tenders until mid-July. The accepted offers will roll out over the next four months.
Teachers will be taught how to assess the air quality in classrooms and the province will take action if required, officials said.
Despite criticism over his handling of the issue, Roberge said Wednesday Quebec was ahead of other provinces when it comes to testing and ensuring air quality in schools.
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