Education

As days tick down, where are the NWT’s school reopening plans?


School boards across the territory are beginning to receive approval for their reopening plans, though few – if any – have yet been made public.

In a statement to Cabin Radio on Friday, the territory’s Department of Education, Culture, and Employment said 35 reopening plans were ready “with the anticipation that the rest will be finalized over the next few business days.”

The department said plans for all 49 schools in the territory had been reviewed by the chief public health officer’s staff, and “final revisions” were now being made.

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“Upon finalization, education bodies are communicating their reopening plans with students, parents, school staff, and community members,” the department said by email. The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer said it had no comment on the process.

The number of plans so far privately communicated to staff and parents is not clear.

Yvonne Careen, superintendent of the Commission scolaire francophone, told Cabin Radio the francophone school board’s reopening plans had been approved and would be made public soon.

The Sahtu Divisional Education Council was the only other school board to confirm it had received final approval for its reopening plans.

Renee Closs, the Sahtu superintendent, said by email the plans would respect “the many health and safety requirements” and ensure schools could, in a resurgence of the pandemic, “continue to offer some form of education.”

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“Now that the plans have been approved, school and divisional staff are in the process of implementing the requirements in the plans,” said Closs.

On Friday, the South Slave Divisional Education Council said it was still awaiting approval for its plans.

As of Thursday, Yellowknife Catholic Schools and the Dehcho Divisional Education Council were also awaiting approval.

YK1, the Beaufort Delta Divisional Education Council, and the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency did not respond to requests for the status of their reopening plans.

All school boards have said they hope to start to the school year on time.

However, that means parents are in some cases just a few weeks away from returning their children to school without having had sight of the plan their school will follow.

‘No return to normal’

The territorial government has already released a broad-brushstrokes reopening plan to guide all schools, but individual schools are expected to file much more detailed documents.

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

Grades 7-9 must maintain a distance of one metre from each other and two metres from their teachers at all times.

Grades 10-12 must maintain a distance of two metres from other students and staff.

The NWT’s overview, released in early July, acknowledged that the coming 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 stated.

The plan warned 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.

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