The NWT’s education minister says staff are working around the clock to come up with a plan after recommending schools stay closed until the fall to combat Covid-19.
RJ Simpson told CBC North’s Loren McGinnis more information would likely be available on Monday, March 30, though what exactly that will include is not yet clear.
The minister said priorities are figuring out how to get education into homes with school buildings closed, how to continue meal programs, and how to re-establish mental health supports for children.
“Time is of the essence here. We’ve been out of school for a little while already and want to get moving again,” Simpson told the CBC on Thursday morning.
On Tuesday evening, Simpson and education leaders agreed by teleconference that schools in the territory should stay closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year. School closures are now being confirmed by education councils.
Simpson said that decision was taken to provide some certainty and free up staff “who were kind-of in a holding pattern” to begin working out how services like meal programs and mental health supports can come back.
“We wanted to begin that delivery and not wait possibly every couple of weeks renewing this closure. We wanted to start to get to work,” he told McGinnis, adding there is no danger of staff layoffs.
“The key issue is the plan. We don’t have a huge staff in the territory and we have a smaller staff than normal [through self-isolation]. We don’t have the manpower right now to create that plan. By making that decision, we free up the education bodies to start to work toward creating a plan.”
By Monday, said Simpson, “we should have more information about what that’s going to look like.”
The NWT has to work out how students can continue to learn from home when not all families have internet access. Of particular concern are Grade 12 students, whose preparation for post-secondary education has come to an abrupt and unprecedented halt.
“We have an entire year of students whose future, to them right now, seems very uncertain,” said Simpson.
“That’s a priority not just for us but across Canada. The post-secondary institutions know that’s happening … and that the requirements might have to be different.”