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Quebecers are concerned about students’ success at school amid COVID-19, survey suggests

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Two-thirds of Quebecers surveyed are concerned about the educational success of their children during the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey for a major teachers’ union suggests.

Ninety per cent of respondents also believe that students with learning difficulties will be most penalized by the pandemic, with 92 per cent believing more resources should be dedicated to helping these students.

But there’s also concerns for students in general: 66 per cent were “very or somewhat worried” about the impact of the pandemic on student success, compared to five per cent who said they were not worried at all.

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Respondents were also split on whether schools were prepared for the resumption of classes – 52 per cent said they were not prepared enough or at all, compared to 48 per cent who thought the opposite.

The CROP survey was conducted online surveying 1,000 Quebecers between July 22 and 29.

The results cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered probabilistic.

The Centrale des syndicats du Quebec (CSQ), which commissioned the poll, said the results suggest more provincial government investment is necessary, particularly resources for those most at-risk.

“These students, who number 223,000, were having difficulties before the pandemic and have gone almost six months without attending school, they are going to need a lot of support,” said union president Sonia Ethier.

Last Monday, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge presented a revised back-to-school plan, making face-coverings mandatory as of Grade 5 and enlarging the bubble concept to include an entire classroom of students.

The new plan also includes a shift to distance learning in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in a classroom.

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Opposition parties raised concerns about the issue of catching up not being addressed after nearly six months away from school, including summer break.

Roberge is expected to address the issue during a news conference on Monday in Quebec City.

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Premier Ford speaks as Ontario confirms 834 new COVID-19 cases

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Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to hold a news conference beginning at 1:30 p.m. at Queen’s Park. Ford’s office says he will be joined by several members of cabinet, including the ministers of municipal affairs and housing, long-term care, education and infrastructure. 

You can watch it live in this story.


Ontario reported another 834 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, driving the seven-day average up to a new high while the number of tests being processed stayed well below capacity for a third day. 

Consistent with recent months, most of the newly confirmed cases in today’s report were found in four public health units:

  • Toronto: 299
  • Peel Region: 186
  • York Region: 121
  • Ottawa: 76

The seven-day average of new daily cases, a measure that helps limit noise in the data to provide a clearer picture of longer-term trends, rose to 886. That’s the highest the average has been at any point in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario’s labs processed just 30,010 tests for the novel coronavirus, despite capacity for around 45,000 daily. 

The relatively low number of tests means there was, roughly, a 2.8 per cent positivity rate, down from yesterday’s record high of about 3.45 per cent but still above the threshold for serious concern (2.5 per cent), according to Ontario’s own public health standards.

More positively, however, after several consecutive days of a markedly lower number of samples being collected for processing, some 41,000 were taken since the last provincial update. That suggests that the level of tests being processed could potentially rebound by tomorrow. 

Meanwhile, the number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 stayed steady at 312. Those being treated in intensive care dropped by four down to 71, and the number of patients on ventilators fell slightly to 51.

Five more COVID-19-linked deaths were added to the province’s toll, which now stands at 3,108.

Ontario has now seen 72,885 confirmed cases of the illness since the first was reported on January 25. About 85 per cent of all cases were resolved.

There are currently 7,474 confirmed, active infections of the novel coronavirus provincewide, a new record high.

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health’s daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid lag times found in the provincial system.)

Ontario’s labs processed just over 30,000 tests, still well below the total capacity of about 45,000 daily. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

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CBU to honour Donald Marshall Jr. with new research centre

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A new research institute planned for Cape Breton University will honour the legacy of Donald Marshall Jr., who fought for the Indigenous right to fish for a moderate livelihood.

The Mi’kmaw man’s name has been invoked in recent weeks by Indigenous fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia who have launched self-regulated lobster fisheries. 

“I think it’s very timely in terms of the need for knowledge sharing, for advocacy and for action,” said Janice Tulk, a senior researcher in the university’s development department. 

The idea for the institute has been in the works for a couple of years, sparked by one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which emphasized the need for education about Indigenous law and Indigenous rights.

Donald Marshall Jr. addresses a crowd in Sydney, N.S., after leading a peaceful protest over Indigenous fishing rights, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2000. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

“We started thinking about what could we do at Cape Breton University that would respond to that call,” said Tulk, whose areas of expertise include Mi’kmaw history and culture, as well as Indigenous economic reconciliation.

Tulk said the university has partnered with Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaw communities over the past 40 years to provide higher education in a variety of fields, with the creation of Mi’kmaw studies programs, Mi’kmaw science programs and more recently, Indigenous business and mentorship programs. The university saw the research institute as a next opportunity, said Tulk.

‘I think it’s amazing’

Cape Breton University will work with members of the Marshall family over the coming months to solidify the vision for the institute.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Crystal Bernard, Donald Marshall Jr.’s daughter.

“We’re so humbled and honoured that they would do this for him, in his name. And I know he would be very proud, as well.”

The idea was made public Monday as the university unveiled plans for a proposed, $80-million Centre for Discovery and Innovation. The project has yet to receive funding, but should it go ahead, it will house the Marshall Institute.

“We need a space where community collaboration can occur,” said Tulk, noting the institute will proceed with or without the new building.

Janice Tulk’s expertise includes Mi’kmaw history and culture, as well as Indigenous tourism development and economic reconciliation. (cbu.ca)

That collaboration will involve university researchers, faculty members and students, as well as community members and organizations such as the Bras d’Or Lakes Collaborative Environmental Planning Initiative and the Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, as well as various levels of government.

“I think we’re going to have some really valuable conversations that will advance our understanding of environmental justice and Indigenous approaches to climate change, and hopefully start to make some progress on those things through those dialogues, through advocacy, through policy change,” said Tulk.

Asked what role the institute might play in situations such as the current unrest over the Indigenous moderate livelihood fishery in Nova Scotia, Tulk said it would serve to help educate people about treaties and Indigenous rights.

“I would imagine that there would be advocacy as well,” said Tulk. “Certainly the institute could play a role in bringing stakeholders together to have honest conversations and collaboratively come up with solutions.”

Bernard said she believes her father would be disappointed by the ongoing situation in southwest Nova Scotia.

“I think it would be very upsetting to him that we’re having to go through this again,” she said.

“On the other hand, I think he’d be on the front lines, fighting with our people, trying to get people to understand that the treaty rights are not up for debate.”

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Calgary Catholic school increases safety precautions after district’s ‘explosion’ of COVID-19 cases

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Just last week, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the Calgary Catholic School District was in the low twenties. But over the weekend, there was an “explosion of cases,” which has led some schools to take drastic steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

Chief superintendent Bryan Szumlas says there are now 64 students and six teachers within the district who have active cases of COVID-19.

“Over the weekend, we saw an explosion of cases.… This is like a three times increase in the last five days. I believe this is what we’re seeing now as a result of the gatherings that happened over the Thanksgiving long weekend,” he said. “Within Calgary Catholic, we have 118 schools, and 35 of our schools right now are dealing with active cases of COVID-19.”

Szumlas said dealing with COVID-19 in schools is an always evolving situation.

“After a 14-day period, some of these schools come off the list where others go on the list. Since the beginning of the school year, it has been a roller-coaster of ups and downs,” he said.  “Right now, we are at a low point and we’re asking all of our parents and our students to please be vigilant and to continue to practise our health measures as we go forward.”

Szumlas said there were roughly 1,000 students in isolation last week, but since then that number has more than doubled, and there are now about 2,400 students and staff who are in self-isolation.  

“Now, that number may seem fairly large, but to put it in perspective, our school district has just over 56,000 students. So that’s roughly 3.5 to four per cent of our total population,” he said.

“Of course, it worries me, but I have a lot of faith that working together with our communities, that this is a little blip right now and we can, if we work together, we can change that curve and bring it down, if we’re all working together and continuing to practise our health measures.”

The recent surge in cases at Calgary Catholic has lead some schools like St. Francis High School to take a more severe approach to curbing cases within the school population. 

In a letter home to St. Francis parents on Monday, the principal announced that five families had received confirmation of a student testing positive for COVID-19, and thus 300 students and 12 staff were in isolation.

As a result of the rise in cases, St. Francis will end its fall athletic program.

“This is necessary to reduce staff and students potentially needing to self-isolate because of a positive COVID-19 case. The start of our winter athletic season will also be postponed until we see a drop in positive cases at Saint Francis,” wrote principal Mark Berger.

The school has also chosen to make final exams “write to improve” only (meaning a lower grade can’t bring down the student’s overall mark).

Szumlas said he supports these moves. 

“I do support what this principal and the school is doing. This is innovative, collaborative. They’re informing their parents. We stand behind this and it is part of the assessment practices,” he said. 

Berger’s letter also appealed to parents to not let teens gather on weekends.

“Some of the positive cases reported were associated with weekend student gatherings. We ask families to consider the potential negative impacts of group gatherings on our school community,” said Berger.

“We are asking parents to discuss with their children the importance of social distancing, avoiding large gatherings and the sharing of food and beverages.”

The Calgary Board of Education, since the beginning of the school year, has had 140 positive cases and 80-plus schools affected by them. 

In October, the CBE said 3,300 students and 325 staff members had been impacted by mandatory isolations. 

Of those attending CBE’s in-person learning, five per cent of students and 3.5 per cent of staff have been affected by required quaranties since September.

“To date, we have had six cases of suspected in-school transmission,” said CBE superintendent of school improvement, Joanne Pittman.

“What I would also say, though, is that even with that suspected in-school transmission, individuals who may have then tested positive have already been in quarantine, and as a result, additional actions were not required because of the safety precautions already put into place. “

CBE board chair Marilyn Dennis said parents should be encouraged by these numbers. 

“The fact that we have only 0.1 per cent of in-person students and .06 per cent of staff that have been identified with a positive case, I would think that would be very encouraging for families,” she said. 

“The strength of it is, No. 1, that we have strong compliance due to the protocols we put in place [and], No. 2, that we have been thorough in our response. We think we can be proud of the work that we’re doing in our schools to try and keep our communities healthy.”

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