[Point de vue de Josiane Cossette] These teachers that we decide to lose
Writer and committed citizen, the author has taught literature at college, is president of the governing board of an elementary school and member of the editorial board of Quebec letters. She co-directed and co-wrote the collective essay Treatments-shocks and tartlets. Critical assessment of the management of COVID-19 in Quebec (All in all).
The teacher Michel Stringer is relieved: after almost a month on the sidelines at the start of the school year, he is back in his French class of 4e secondary school at the Sophie-Barat school for a few weeks. Left in the meantime to a succession of substitutes, his students are as happy as he is. While the reunion is positive, the story of long-lasting COVID, asbestos dust, medical expertise and bureaucratic rigidity is far from over…and it highlights deep systemic issues.
Let’s start with the beginning. When Michel Stringer contracted COVID in the spring of 2020, his symptoms were pretty mild. But a month later, he was struggling to lift a recycling bin without experiencing intense shortness of breath. At the end of August of the same year, he experienced a first respiratory distress. Long-lasting COVID? The condition was little known at the time… Today, the team following him at the MUHC has a more precise hypothesis: his COVID would have set fire to an underlying medical condition, an onset of pulmonary fibrosis caused by the exposure to a contaminant in the workplace.
At the start of the 2020 school year, precisely, students from Sophie-Barat were transferred urgently: a pavilion threatened to collapse. Like dozens of other buildings in the Center de services scolaire de Montréal (CSSDM), the establishment has a dilapidation rating of E, the worst, indicating that its condition is so lamentable that it will have to be renovated. from top to bottom or demolished. But back to Michael.
Having had to turn to distance education since the Omicron outbreak, the 50-year-old man was looking forward to the start of the 2022 school year to reconnect with face-to-face teaching, which is now compulsory. Since he is immunosuppressed, his attending physician asked for some accommodations: a plexiglass around his desk (the students are not masked), a HEPA filter air purifier and an N95 mask. Nothing’s easier ; there is a shortage of teachers, everyone wins if it is quickly put in place to prevent him from being re-infected, right?
The three speeds (again)
If the plexi is quickly installed, the CSSDM refuses the addition of an air purifier, a scenario that has been repeated since the INSPQ produced an opinion in December 2020, repeatedly disputed, on their use. Quebec is a distinct society in this area. Ontario has provided its classes for a long time and the cases of COVID, when we counted them, were four times less numerous there than here. English-language school boards in Quebec have installed them in large numbers, as well as several private schools (some even having permanent air filtration systems).
However, in our Belle Province, the opinions of Public Health dictate the directives of the Ministry of Education, which dictate the conduct of Francophone service centers, in a top-down dynamic exacerbated by the abolition of school boards: more commissioners to carry the voices which denounce, since, that the promised autonomy translated, in the facts, by a centralization of the decisions and a reinforcement of the law of silence. Orders come from above and the field complies, out of a duty of loyalty or fear of reprisals. The French-speaking CSS are the poor child of the system, and the fight against the virus is no exception.
The media had to spread the word about the case for the purifier to appear in Michel Stringer’s premises. Only the question of the N95 remained, which was settled after some trial and error. Quick, to class!
The absurd way of service
But even if Michel’s doctors gave him the green light, the CSSDM had its foot on the brakes. Would it be so terrible to create a precedent and (what a disaster!) to allow immunosuppressed teachers to evolve in conditions that do not put their health at stake? Michel Stringer momentarily feared that he would be forced to leave on disability, like one of his colleagues from another service center.
Suffering from a systemic syndrome which notably causes dry eyes, mouth and even bronchial, Chantal (fictitious name to protect her from possible reprisals from her employer) had her rheumatologist prescribe a humidifier in her room to prevent his condition from deteriorating. However, the management of material resources has decided: excessive constraint. She was sent on invalidity against her will. And here it is: a competent and dynamic teacher whose education system does not have the luxury of doing without has been forced to stay at home since the start of the school year.
For Michel Stringer, everything magically unlocks at the end of September, when the CNESST and Montreal Public Health arrive at Sophie-Barat to investigate following a complaint.
The ensuing report is damning: pierced tiles risk exposing the occupants to asbestos dust. Premises are urgently closed. We suspect, now, that a school in such a dilapidated state could have caused damage to the lungs of the teacher – we even hope that he is the only one… Did we suddenly allow Michel Stringer to come back to work because the facts were on his side?
Authorities will have to stop seeing teachers who cry wolf as threats and start to see them as partners who simply want our system to get better. It starts with buildings that are less rotten to the core and conditions that don’t make their occupants sick. It also starts by listening to the doctors. Acknowledging the problem is not an admission of failure, it is the first step to move forward; together. The most absurd and unfair thing about all of this is that if Michel and Chantal had practiced privately or in an English school board, they probably wouldn’t have missed a single day of class…
Michel, armed with his plexi, his N95 and his air purifier, is really happy to be back. He will continue to fulfill, as he has done for 27 years, his duty of loyalty… to his students.
To see in video