Quebec Premier François Legault is in Montreal today. Speaking alongside Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, Quebec’s National Director for Public Health Horacio Arruda, Public Health Regional Director Mylène Drouin and Transport Minister François Bonnardel, he announced that Montreal-area schools won’t re-open until the fall.

Primary schools across Quebec, excluding the Greater Montreal Area, re-opened on Monday, with Montreal expected to follow on May 25th provided COVID-19 numbers were dropping on par with World Health Organization criteria for deconfinement. With over 20 000 people infected, they aren’t and Montreal has become Canada’s epicenter for the virus, so it will be late August and September before any schools re-open here.

Pushing re-opening back a few weeks only to close them when the school year ends mid-June would have made no sense according to Legault. Daycares that don’t run on the same school year may re-open June 1, provided Coronavirus containment conditions are met.

Non-essential retail businesses not located in malls or in malls with a separate street entrance in Montreal could possibly re-open on May 25th as planned. That date may, of course, be pushed back.

When they do re-open, though, there will inevitably be more people using public transit. Legault announced that Quebec will assist Montreal in providing masks for commuters, which Plante welcomed.

The Premier and his colleagues have been recommending people wear face coverings whenever they leave their home for a few days now, and in particular when they ride public transit. While they won’t rule out making masks mandatory on transit at some point in the future, we’re not there yet.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced that Quebec will be re-opening primary schools and childcare services across the province but excluding the Greater Montreal Area on May 11th and then in Montreal and the 450 area codes on May 19th. High schools and post-secondary education institutions will only re-open for in-person classes in the fall as most currently offer online courses.

In his daily press briefing on Quebec’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Legault stressed that attendance will be optional and urged children with health issues or children of parents with health issues to stay home. He also noted that this plan will only go into effect if Quebec’s Coronavirus numbers continue on their current trajectory.

In the past 24 hours, Quebec reported 23 new COVID-19 hospitalizations, 84 new deaths and five fewer people in intensive care. Legault noted that most of the increase is happening in seniors’ residences, which is the focus of the province’s fight against the pandemic.

Legault said that it’s like we’re living in “two fifferent worlds” when comparing long-term care facilities to the rest of Quebec society. This is how the government is justifying opening up parts of society a bit.

Legault said that re-opening schools is for societal reasons as well as to prevent kids with learning disabilities from being away from their teachers for too long. The premier stressed that “heard immunity” wasn’t a principal reason behind the move.

Tomorrow Quebec will announce its timetable for re-opening businesses.

The Ministry of Education has revised its criteria for what constitutes an underprivileged school and how much food aid they should get. The Ministry’s food aid program aims to help high schools from underprivileged communities provide subsidized meals and snacks. Although the total budget of $7.7 million remains unchanged, many schools, particularly in outer regions, have seen their allowance plummet or disappear.

The Samares School Board in Lanaudière, for example, went from receiving $190 226 to $7081 in two school years. In the Eastern Quebec, the Chic-Chocs School Board went from $33 090 this year to $5 269 for next year. Chic-Chocs representative Marie-Noëlle Dion called the situation deplorable, particularly for three of their schools that will have to do without food aid all together.

The both the entire Outaouais and Laurentides region are now devoid of high schools providing subsidized meals.

The matter was the subject of a heated debate on Wednesday in the National Assembly where Education Minister Sébastien Proulx tried to defend the government’s policies.

“The money for the food aid program was maintained and indexed,” hammered Proulx, “it is meant for our most underprivileged schools, and that has not changed. If the rules have changed in the last few years, it was to correct inequalities in the sense that in some communities there were privileged schools receiving food aid.”

To which the official spokesperson for education of the opposition Alexandre Cloutier replied: “For the entire region of Outaouais, as of next September, there is zero funding! Are you saying there is not one kid who goes to school on an empty stomach in Outaouais?”

André Villeneuve, MNA of Berthier, piled on: “In Lanaudière, it’s four high schools, it’s hundreds of kids who will go to school on en empty stomach!

Where is the money going?

The Ministry determines the amount of food aid it will give to each school depending on where it ranks on the government’s indexes of deprivation. Those indexes reflect the proportion of students from families who are below the low-income threshold as well as their socio-economic background, which takes into account the level of education of the mother and whether or not the parents are employed.

Minister Proulx said that the calculations have been adjusted to focus on the schools that score 9 or 10 out of 10 on these indexes. At the time of publication, FTB is waiting for specifications from the Ministry about the nature of these adjustments and the number of schools that supposedly benefited from them.

Most of the schools scoring 9s and 10s are presumably in Montreal, where child poverty is particularly glaring. A recent study by Tonino Esposito of Université de Montréal and Catherine Roy of McGill found that sixteen of the 30 neighborhoods with the most underprivileged children in the province are in Montreal. Montréal-Nord is at the very top of the chart.

In any case, many children who were only a year ago considered underprivileged enough to get access to food aid are now considered as fortunate enough to do without it. Professionals and politicians are accusing the government of robbing Peter to pay Paul in education, while they break the bank for lobbies and corporations. Or, As Cloutier put it : How can a Minister who is swimming in budgetary surplus justify this sort of measure?”

* Featured image: École secondaire de L’Île, Outaouais. From HockeyAcademy