Teachers sue for info on Quebec back-to-school plan

People wear face masks as they walk through a market in Montreal, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. The Quebec government has introduced fines for individuals caught not wearing face masks or coverings in indoor public spaces. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

People wear face masks as they walk through a market in Montreal, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. The Quebec government has introduced fines for individuals caught not wearing face masks or coverings in indoor public spaces. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL – A teachers’ union is suing Quebec to obtain documents used to prepare the province’s back-to-school plan, claiming authorities are not being transparent about the number of infections in schools and are taking too long to implement a promised accelerated COVID-19 testing system.

The Federation autonome de l’enseignement filed its legal action Monday, requesting the Superior Court order the province to immediately release documents related to the back-to-school strategy and to reveal whether it has set up a rapid-testing system for schools. FAE’s request for judicial review and for an interlocutory injunction came the same day authorities reported 276 new COVID-19 infections across the province.

At least 246 Quebec schools have reported at least one case of COVID-19 since classes resumed in late August, Union President Sylvain Mallette said in an interview Monday. Last week, health authorities suspended daily updates on the number of schools with cases of COVID-19, saying they were “adjusting” the system.

Mallette said his union, which represents about 49,000 teachers, has been trying since Aug. 10 to get the government to say whether it has a system in place to rapidly test students, teachers and other school staff for COVID-19 — and to quickly obtain testing results.

“We don’t know if there is (a rapid-testing system), and if there is one, we don’t know what it looks like and how it functions,” Mallette said, adding the province had promised in early August to implement a rapid-testing system for schools.

The group’s legal claim names Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge, and the province’s chief public health officer, Horacio Arruda.

“It’s not normal that we don’t know where the outbreaks are, how they are being reported, and what the delay is between the moment someone says they have symptoms and the moment they get their (testing) results,” Mallette said.

Quebec’s back-to-school plan, unveiled in August, has also drawn criticism from parents.

Last week a judge denied a request by a group of parents to force the province to provide an online learning option for families worried about sending children to school amid the pandemic. Only children with serious medical conditions or who live with someone at risk of severe complications from COVID-19 can be exempted from physically attending classes.

Quebec’s government has insisted that getting students back into classrooms would benefit them and their families.

The province has seen a recent increase in daily COVID-19 cases. Dube, the health minister, said Sunday that cases have been reported in regions across the province and described the situation as “under control, but concerning.”

Public health officials reported 276 new COVID-19 infections Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 65,262. That marked the second consecutive day Quebec has reported more than 275 cases of COVID-19 over a 24-hour period, after 279 infections were reported Sunday.

No additional deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus occurred over the past 24 hours, leaving the total at 5,780, authorities said. The number of hospitalizations remained unchanged at 124. Of those patients, 19 people were in intensive care — the same number as the previous day.

Quebec said 20,639 COVID-19 tests were conducted Saturday, the last date for which testing data is available.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2020.