Montreal school board to create virtual school for vulnerable students

The Quebec government has announced that it is ending online learning for students vulnerable to COVID-19 complications, but that isn’t stopping one school board from going ahead with a virtual option.

In a statement, the Education Ministry said that since the province ended its public-health state of emergency in March, the measures taken to provide distance learning also ended with the 2021-22 school year.

“From now on, it is only through the development and implementation of a pilot project authorized by the Ministry that educational institutions can offer distance education services as part of the general education of young people,” the statement read.

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has already said it will throw its hat in the ring. The board plans to work with the ministry to open a full-time virtual school for English students.

“Right now, there are no COVID protocols that exist [in the schools],” said Mike Cohen, a spokesperson for the board.

“We’re very pleased that we’ve been given the opportunity to make virtual school available for those that really need it.”

Unclear which students are eligible

Katherine Korakis, the head of Quebec’s English Parents’ Committee Association, said school starts in a week and parents were left in the dark about the province’s plans.

“I think there is a lack of clarity of what the government is proposing,” she said.

EMSB spokesperson Mike Cohen says everything is set up to ensure kids are safe as they return to Mackay Center and Philip E. Layton Schools. (CBC)

Korakis said parents are worried that their children, who fall into the category of immunocompromised or of living with someone who is, could be suddenly going back to school despite the risk.

It’s not known which of those children will qualify for the EMSB’s virtual school. Cohen said that the ministry will decide who can enroll, though he said it should be available to English students across the province, from kindergarten through to Grade 11.

Details should come in the coming days and eligible families will be able to register soon after, he said.

Marie-France Raynault, a senior strategic medical advisor for Quebec Public Health, said at a news conference Wednesday that pediatricians and oncologists are comfortable sending kids back to the classroom.

“They’ve seen that those who went to school did very well, and didn’t have as many complications as was anticipated in the beginning,” she said.

“Most of the children who are immunocompromised are able to go to school. Those are the discussions I’ve had with the specialists.”

Homeschooling remains an option, advocate says

Gina Picone is a homeschooling parent on the Association québécoise pour l’éducation domicile’s board of directors. If the distance learning option isn’t available, she said, some parents may want to turn to homeschooling.

She said her organization went from a couple hundred members to a couple thousand during the pandemic, and it remains available for those parents who want to turn to homeschooling rather than sending their kids back to school.

Homeschooling is different than distance learning, she added, because the onus is put on the parents to manage the program. It can be overwhelming at first, Picone said, but her her organization is ready to help.

“It is a viable option,” she said. “It can be done.”