Heaviest-Hit Province Quebec First in Canada to Re-Open

May 11, 2020 Updated: May 11, 2020

MONTREAL—Some Quebec children will be back in class today for the first time since March as the province reopens elementary schools and day cares outside the Montreal area.

While the province is the first in Canada to reopen following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials say it will be far from business as usual.

Students will be subject to physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and carefully co-ordinated school days spent in large part at their desks while school officials keep up with cleaning, disinfecting and following public health guidelines.

Libraries, gyms and cafeterias will be closed, while some schools have prepared videos that warn parents and kids to expect to see floors marked with taped indicators of where to stand and teachers donning goggles, masks and gloves.

Attendance isn’t mandatory, and some school boards have indicated that most parents are keeping their children home for now.

Schools in the Montreal area, for their part, will remain closed until at least May 25, while high schools and junior colleges won’t be back until the fall.

Quebec has faced some pushback on the decision to reopen schools ahead of any other province, despite having the country’s highest COVID-19 caseload by far.

Some educators and parents have raised questions over issues such as school bus transport, staff safety and the challenges of enforcing distancing requirements in classrooms, which are supposed to have a maximum of 15 students each.

But Premier Francois Legault has defended his decision, noting the risk to young people is limited and that it’s better to open things up gradually rather than all at once.

He said children, especially those with special needs, will benefit from seeing their teachers and classmates.

“Life needs to continue,’’ Legault said when he announced the reopening.

He said there likely won’t be a vaccine for over a year, and children can’t be kept home until then.

Legault has said the situation will be closely monitored by public health officials, who won’t hesitate to adjust the rules if the needed.