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Schools can't refuse to reopen, Quebec says

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MONTREAL—Quebec's English-language school boards don't have the right to refuse to reopen their elementary schools, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said Sunday on the eve of the province's gradual economic relaunch.

Roberge said the government will decide when the school year resumes after a pause brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“English school boards don't have the legal power to push back the opening of school establishments,” his office said in an email.

“It is an exclusive competence of the government of Quebec.”

Quebec is moving forward with a plan to gradually reopen the economy, beginning with retail stores outside the Montreal area on Monday. But as the number of cases continues to climb, topping 30,000 on Sunday, some groups have questioned what they see as an aggressive timeline.

Last week, the province's English-language school boards association signalled to the minister that they would reopen “if and when” they believed the situation to be safe, regardless of the government's schedule.

While high schools are closed for the remainder of the school year, elementary schools and daycares outside Montreal are scheduled to reopen May 11, with those in the hard-hit city set to follow a week later.

On Sunday, Roberge made it clear that he expected school boards to respect the government's timeline.

“It is up to public health experts to judge if the health conditions for a gradual return to class are met, not elected school officials,” he said, noting that an extended confinement could have negative mental health consequences for students.

The government has said classes will be limited to 15 students, and no parent will be required to send their child if they're not comfortable doing so.

Roberge added that health officials would not hesitate to push back the opening dates if the situation warrants.

Meanwhile, Quebec is moving forward with a plan to open retail stores outside Montreal on Monday, while those in the greater Montreal region are to reopen a week later, as long as they have their own dedicated entrance.

Malls will remain closed and most stores will close Sundays in May with the exception of convenience stores, pharmacies, gas stations, restaurant take-out counters and grocery deliveries.

Quebec's provincial elected officials will also be returning to work at the provincial legislature May 13, The Canadian Press has learned.

Sources have said parliamentary activities will resume gradually over several weeks, but will include three question periods by the week of May 25.

In order to ensure proper distancing, a rotation will be put in place so that no more than 40 people can be present at once.

The news came as Quebec registered another large jump in COVID-19 cases.

The province reported 892 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, as well as 1,317 additional cases from April that were not previously included in the provincial tally.

In a statement, the province said those previous cases originated mostly from the Montreal, Laval and Monteregie areas, and were not counted due to a technical problem.

The province now has 31,865 cases and 2,205 deaths, the latter an increase of 69 over a day prior. More than 7,250 people have recovered.

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