Schools in northern Quebec Cree communities will remain closed until at least the fall.
The decision was announced late Thursday by the Cree School Board executive committee and made in collaboration with local government and health officials.
“Bringing the students back into our schools really does pose a risk to our communities,” said Sarah Pash, Cree School Board chairperson, adding learning will continue online.
“It’s very difficult to maintain protocols with young children. Schools can be just that kind of place where an outbreak can happen.”
Cree schools, along with schools across Quebec, have been closed since mid-March in an effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.
Earlier this week, Quebec premier François Legault announced his government is working on a plan to reopen schools and daycares over the coming weeks and months, an idea that was causing anxiety in the North, according to Pash.
The risk in our communities is different than the risk in the South.– Sarah Pash, Cree School Board chairperson
Diabetes touches a third of the Cree population and there is a high percentage of people dealing with chronic illnesses and other issues that make them more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
“We have elders and we have crowded housing to deal with,” added Pash. “The risk in our communities is different than the risk in the South.”
Goose Break holiday for Cree and important factor
Pash said it was important for the Cree School Board to take decisive action sooner than the rest of province, as many Cree families are heading out for the Goose Break holiday, an annual event where people head to their traditional camps to hunt migrating geese returning in the spring.
Pash said parents were “very concerned” the board would make decisions while they were out on the land and they wouldn’t be able to hear about it. They were also concerned that teachers working in Cree schools would travel to southern “hots pots” during the Goose Break holiday and put communities at risk if schools reopened.
The move will allow the board to really move its resources and energies to an online learning platform which was launched earlier this month, according to Pash and Abraham Jolly, Cree School Board director general.
“Student success remains at the core of our vision,” said Jolly, in a press release. “We will do everything we can to assist students in their learning.”
The priority is to help the Cree School Board graduating class, of more than 250 students meet the requirements for graduation, said chairperson Sarah Pash.
“Those students can still graduate. They still have work they need to do and complete to finish their courses and get their credits,” said Pash. “Our job right now should be to give them the support they need.”
The Cree board has paired up Secondary 4 and 5 students (Grade 10 and 11) with mentors who will help support their learning for the rest of the school year.
Plan for a return in the fall still in the works
Pash said the board is still working out plans for a return to class in the Fall.
Health officials globally have warned a return to class in the fall might coincide with a second wave of COVID-19.
Pash said any decision regarding how Cree schools eventually reopen will be made in close collaboration with Cree leadership and the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.
“The way we are setting ourselves up now in terms of moving to online learning platforms … in both youth and adult sectors is really going to take us a long way to preparing us for any possible second wave that comes in fall,” said Pash.