In-person classes are allowed again… but is that what students want?
On Feb. 2, the Quebec government announced universities could begin to reopen gradually, encouraging students to get back in the classroom.
Quebec’s guidelines for higher education specific to COVID-19 currently state that “Since February 8, 2021, educational institutions must ensure that all students are able to access in-person educational activities several times a month, ideally once a week.”
Despite this improvement on the education front, the province-wide curfew and restrictions on gatherings in private homes are continuing, with some exceptions.
Universities have been holding the majority of classes online since the pandemic’s first wave began last spring. Exceptions have been made for students who need to take part in essential in-person activities, such as labs or studio work.
An email sent out to the Concordia student body from the office of the Provost said “What the government has announced are orientations, not directives. It goes without saying that Concordia would like to see campus life return to ‘pre-pandemic normal’ as soon as public health conditions permit.” The university will continue to evaluate public health conditions against what in person activities they already offer before making a large-scale return to in-person activity.
Evaluating whether or not it is the appropriate time is difficult. While COVID-19 case numbers have been trending down in the province, there is a large amount of speculation that international variants of the virus have found their way to Montreal.
There is also the question of how students feel right now. Many students don’t feel safe returning to classes.
“I wouldn’t feel safe because in Montreal I live with a host family. So if I do bring the virus home that would be like, not good for me … For my course at least I don’t see any advantage in having in-person, only some classes, let’s say group work and things like that,” said Natalia Ferraz de Camargo, a second-year international student who is currently located in Brazil.
But it’s not just international students who may not be able to take advantage of new in-person activity. Students who are immunocompromised or live with someone who is will have to seriously consider whether they can take advantage of returning to class.
“You have to listen to your conscience and ask yourself, am I going in because I really want to and it’s going to make me feel good, [is it] the best thing for the people around me? Especially if you have people in your life who are immunocompromised or older, you might not want to take that risk,” said Ebby Crowe, a first-year student in Child Studies.
However, there are students who feel fine about returning to school.
“I don’t think I would have a problem regarding the COVID situation to go back to classes… As long as everyone is wearing masks and two meters apart it’s basically the same as being back at work,” said Mahoor Ramzirezaei, a graduate diploma student in Communications Studies.
For many students, the timing of the announcement is also an issue. For many out-of-province and international students who chose to stay home for the semester, it’s hard to hear that suddenly classes could be available, five weeks into the semester.
“If I knew that it was going to be in person like before the semester even started I would go back for sure. But now, like, if they tell me ‘oh it’s in person,’ I don’t want to go back,” said Ferraz de Camargo.
Concordia won’t be making any of the new in-person activities mandatory, and students located outside of Montreal are not being told they need to flock back to the city.
If the doors to Concordia and other universities are going to open, some students don’t think that classes are the first place to start.
“I’m thinking about the counselling services … There are so many students who are waiting to be put on the list and I know that you have to email them and hope to god there’s a spot available,” said Crowe.
It’s important to remember that last March, classes weren’t the only thing that went online. Most of Concordia’s university services remain online or require online booking. This new government ordinance could be an opportunity to gradually open up student services on campus and make them more accessible before we worry about flooding classrooms one day a week.
Despite universities having the option to host in-person classes and declining COVID cases, a large-scale return to class still seems to be a long way off. But, in response to these new governmental orders, Concordia has said they are “working to organize social and/or extra-curricular activities, such as spaces for networking and team meetings, that would allow you to gather with peers on campus at a safe distance, should you wish.”
Graphic by James Fay