Education

Classroom bubbles for younger kids as NWT releases schools plan


The territorial government on Friday released a broad-brushstrokes plan for the return of students and teachers to the NWT’s schools in the new academic year.

The plan does not significantly depart from the NWT government’s existing message that all schools will reopen on time this fall and provide as much in-person education as they can.

Entitled Reopening NWT Schools Safely, Friday’s plan takes the form of a general overview. Individual schools may have specific measures in place. There is no fixed date for schools to provide more information to parents.

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In general, the plan states, students from junior kindergarten to Grade 6 will have no physical distancing within their “classroom bubble” while at school.

That’s in line with previous advice that children aged up to 12 need not distance from each other while outdoors playing, as they are considered to be a low-risk demographic.

The NWT government said in-person learning would be prioritized for junior kindergarten to Grade 6.

Grades 7 to 9 must maintain a distance of one metre from each other at all times, and two metres from their teachers. Grades 10 to 12 must maintain a distance of two metres from other students and staff at all times.

Students aged 19 and over “must learn remotely for their safety, so these students will be supported through distance learning,” the plan states.

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Six priorities

The plan acknowledges that the 2020-21 school year will “not be a return to normal” for staff and students.

“Most classrooms will be arranged differently, students and staff will need to use masks and other personal protective equipment, and there will be new rules to enforce hygiene and physical distancing,” the document states.

“Although teachers and school staff will be doing everything they can to ensure school continues to be a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment, it is likely going to look and feel different for everyone. We also recognize there will be challenges for both students and staff in returning to school after a lengthy break from classroom-based learning, and that the social and emotional needs of students will need to be prioritized throughout the transition back into school.

“While we cannot control or predict the realities of the pandemic, we are committed to ensuring that learning continues for all NWT students, regardless of the circumstances.”

More: Reopening NWT Schools Safely plan | Summary | Background info

The plan identifies six priorities: health and safety, starting the school year on time, in-person learning, equity across regions, financial support for schools, and continuity of learning “regardless of how the pandemic evolves.”

In keeping with prior statements, the plan warns that schools will be ready to switch “at a moment’s notice” from in-person to remote learning if the pandemic’s threat to the NWT changes.

However, for the most part, the plan provides little by way of granular detail – emphasizing the extent to which individual schools and school boards face unique challenges requiring solutions they must devise.

‘Monitor children for symptoms’

Counselling, mental health supports, self-regulations, and social and emotional learning are listed as priority areas in the plan, as are food programs, but there are no specifics.

“Parents will be asked to monitor their children daily for symptoms and not send them to school if they are sick,” the plan states.

“A screening process will be developed and people who are sick will not be allowed in school. If students become sick at school, they will be quickly isolated, parents will be contacted, and the student will be sent home.”

Schools will be disinfected more frequently, there will be no assemblies, and students can expect to see much more plexiglass at their school as barriers are put in place.

“There will be changes to student transportation, in line with recommendations by the chief public health officer. Every student must wear a mask on the bus, and there may also be scheduling changes,” the plan states.

“Parents, guardians and visitors will have limited access to schools to reduce potential exposure.”

Teachers and other school staff will be provided with face shields.

The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer is still working to approve individual reopening plans for each school, the NWT government said.

“Students and their families will be kept informed of any changes and receive ongoing, regular updates from their schools and education bodies,” the plan states.

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