The NWT government says the territory’s schools will remain closed until the fall, despite the chief public health officer saying this week they could reopen.
In a statement on Thursday afternoon, the territorial government said education leaders, education minister RJ Simpson, and the NWT Teachers’ Association had agreed “not to reopen schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.”
The statement acknowledged “circumstances vary greatly across communities and regions in terms of capacity to reopen schools at this time.”
The decision comes two days after Dr Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer, said “there is no better time than now” for schools to reopen.
“There are no cases, the weather is warm, we have tight controls at our borders,” Dr Kandola told Cabin Radio on Tuesday evening. Under the territory’s recovery plan, schools have permission to reopen from the introduction of phase one – which potentially kicks in as early as Friday – as long as a range of special measures are in place.
“Parents who are anxious and fearful, how long do you want to live in anxiety and fear? Two years, three years?” Kandola asked on Tuesday.
“At what point do you accept risk, mitigate the risk, and decide your kids deserve an education and it is safe to do so?
Kandola has expressed concern that a second wave of Covid-19 in the south – anticipated this fall as temperatures drop and more people move indoors – could see the territory once again adopting harsher restrictions to keep communities protected and residents healthy.
Minister ‘supports decision’
Thursday’s statement took care to state that Kandola’s advice that schools could reopen was “encouraging news” and educators had been given “essential guidance needed to move forward with reopening classrooms for students and staff.”
However, the statement continued, educators had concluded there were too many “complex operational challenges” to go ahead.
“These challenges include, but are not limited to, the absence of teachers in many communities, strong concerns from local governments, and an immediate shortage of the equipment required to maintain safety under the chief public health officer’s recommendations,” the statement read.
“Most schools anticipate being unable to complete and implement the rigorous risk management plans needed to reopen prior to the end of the school year.”
Minister Simpson, in prepared remarks, said: “I understand the many challenges faced by our education bodies across the territory, and support their unified decision to focus efforts on planning for the fall while supporting continued learning for all NWT students for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.”
Simon Cloutier, chair of the NWT’s francophone school board, was quoted as saying on behalf of education leaders: “We have heard the recommendation that schools can reopen. Together, we have analyzed our capacity to do so and have determined that for the safety of our staff and students, we will not.
“Taking the necessary time to plan for a well thought-out re-entry in the fall is our priority. That being said, we will continue to support our students via our continuity of learning plans until the end of June.”