There is no doubt that our children’s education and their need for socialization is important for their growth and well-being. However, the idea of sending children back to school at a time when many unknowns remain about the pandemic, has many parents and teachers alarmed – especially with Quebec’s ‘back-to school’ plan. The government’s updated plan, announced just last Monday August 10th, has left numerous questions unanswered and confusion remains with their directives. With schools set to reopen at the end of August, time is running out.
At the forefront are the limited, acceptable requirements for the ‘remote learning’ option. Quebec’s plan does allow for online learning and they will offer the resources to do so – but ‘only if a child or someone in their household has a medical condition that puts them at risk of health complications due to COVID-19’. Jean-Francois Roberge, Quebec’s Education Minister, has stated from the start that a signed, medical exemption document is required to do so. However, there have been several reports from parents who say doctors are refusing to sign them, as the child’s the medical condition is not included on the list. Without that, it would be mandatory for the child to attend classes or register to be homeschooled. The latter, an option only for parents who do not have to work outside the home and are able to commit to the time required to do so.
A mother from Montreal, with two children on the autistic spectrum, (who asked for her name to remain confidential) prefers not to send them to school. She is concerned about their health and safety, as well as that of herself and their father at home. She attempted to get an exemption, but was refused because Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was not considered a ‘medical condition that puts them at risk’. She had this to say:
“As a parent of two children on the spectrum I have serious concerns about the new schooling guidelines here in Quebec concerning COVID-19. First, because of their problems understanding social cues, children on the spectrum have challenges understanding personal space. Now, in the context of social distancing, it becomes almost impossible. Also, technicians that work with special needs children need to wear protective gear because there is no way to distance themselves from the children (contact is necessary). How are the children who have already difficulties reading faces supposed to cope with their aid (a person of comfort) wearing a shield and mask? One of my children has an issue with oral fixation, he chews on everything, this is how he copes with sensory issues. Every year he catches every bug in the classroom because of this, it’s concerning in the context of Covid-19. Although the Quebec government said that some children may have access to online learning because of health reasons, children with special needs like ASD don’t fit that description because technically they have no underlying condition like asthma or heart problems. Also, I ask if getting together in a household is limited to 10 people (from 3 households), how is a classroom filled with 20 students okay?”
She is not the only parent who is concerned about Quebec’s ‘back-to school’ plan and one of many who want the option of ‘remote learning’ for their children. Julius Grey, a Montreal constitutional lawyer who is representing a group of Quebec parents, announced last Sunday that his office will be filing a lawsuit in Superior Court later in the week, challenging the Quebec government’s order ‘obliging children to return to the classroom when schools re-open for the academic year’. His argument being ‘that requiring children to attend classes in person violates their parents’ charter rights to make decisions that affect life and security’ and that ‘the government can and should provide them that choice without making them pull their children from their normal schools’.
Some parents do not have any have any issues with sending their children back to school. They believe the protocols put in place are enough to keep them safe and the potential risks are minimal. They could prove to be right. Other parents, who do not want to send their children back, are concerned about the potential and serious health issues they could face, for themselves and other family members who are at risk, should their children contract the virus and bring it home. Whatever the outcome, let us hope that what is best for the children prevails – and that everyone remains healthy and safe.