A group of families has written to the NWT’s education minister asking him to postpone the demolition of Yellowknife’s École JH Sissons during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The school is set to be torn down this summer so a new facility can be built on the same land. The new-look JH Sissons would be ready to open in the fall of 2022 under current plans.
However, writing to education minister RJ Simpson, some parents said the school should remain in place to provide more space for students during the pandemic.
Restrictions designed to keep students apart are likely to be needed when schools reopen this fall. Students from JH Sissons are relocating to the city’s William McDonald and Sir John Franklin schools for the two years the rebuild will take.
The parents said this meant “reducing the number of classrooms at the worst possible time.”
“Physical distancing requires space. Choosing to delay the demolition of Sissons would put our children’s health and education first during a health crisis,” the letter, copied to a range of northern newsrooms, continued.
“If [the Department of Education, Culture, and Employment] insists on tearing down a whole school during a crisis that demands more space, not less, the public will expect ECE to transparently explain why it is deciding to place other considerations above the safety and education of our children.”
A spokesperson for the department said Simpson had only received the letter on Monday and “will not be commenting publicly until he has had the opportunity to respond formally.”
The best time for the rebuild?
Not all parents agreed with the letter.
One parent of children educated at JH Sissons, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of offending the letter’s authors, said they believed the pandemic in fact represented the ideal time to tear down the existing school and build a new one.
With school set to be severely disrupted by pandemic-related public health measures come what may, the parent said, it made sense to get a separate disruption – the school’s demolition and rebuilding – over with as quickly as possible.
Otherwise, they said, students could endure a year of disruption through Covid-19 followed by two more years of disruption as the school is rebuilt.
Metro Huculak, the YK1 superintendent, said he could not comment on the letter’s contents but added parents “certainly have the right to question and express their concerns.”
Huculak said JH Sissons had been “packed up already” and any remaining equipment was ready to be moved out. Portable classrooms for William McDonald School, to accommodate additional students from JH Sissons, have been ordered and are set to arrive in mid-August.
“Hopefully some of the restrictions will be lifted for September,” said Huculak, who retires at the end of this month.
“We’re trying to work on how best to deliver education to students. We’re still working on that. We’ve got to see what our parents would like to see.”
“The crisis we are in requires us to be adaptable,” the parents said in their letter.
“This is not the time to cling to plans made before our current reality, out of administrative convenience. It is irresponsible to be tearing down a school at a time when schools are required to reduce class sizes and stagger schedules to maintain physical distancing.
“We can avoid making a bad situation worse.”