Parents express confusion as cluster guidelines evolve

Last modified: May 6, 2021 at 6:56am

Since NWT public health officials ordered the closure of schools in Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilǫ, parents have had to track rapidly changing guidance while moving their children to online learning.

Shania Alita Ruttle, isolating with her three sons – two of whom are students at NJ Macpherson School – said “a lot of people are just really confused” as the guidance for families evolves by the day.

NJ Macpherson was the site of the first confirmed Covid-19 case in the recent cluster. All students and staff at the school are considered contacts, meaning they and their households must isolate for two weeks.


That isolation guidance has shifted rapidly as the scale of the cluster has grown (there were 34 confirmed cases as of Wednesday evening). Currently, all contacts of the cluster must stay on their property for two weeks, regardless of vaccination status.

The NWT’s health authority notified parents on Monday that NJ Macpherson’s gym would become a dedicated Covid-19 testing centre for students and staff on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Corey Francis submitted a photo of daughter Mila in front of NJ Macpherson School after her Covid-19 test. “When leaving, my girl wanted to draw a rainbow and show her love for her school,” said Francis.

Ruttle doesn’t have a vehicle and said that makes it challenging getting to and from the testing location. She worried her boys would not respond well to the nasal swab.


“One of them is six, and I feel like he has a harder time understanding why it needs to be done,” she said.

NJ Macpherson principal Landon Kowalzik hoped using the school’s gym for testing would make the process easier on students.

“I think a lot of students know the school so well that it’s a safe place for them,” Kowalzik said.

“Even though the test itself can be kind-of scary and overwhelming, being able to do it there is a little more comforting.”

‘Waiting for the light’

Despite that familiarity, Kowalzik admitted the “eerie” sensation of seeing the school transformed into a Covid-19 testing centre.

“On the one hand you’re proud, right? I’m proud that we’re able to get something going so quickly,” he said. “But it’s also strange because the school’s such a warm and happy place. And walking into the school today … it’s kind-of a sterile environment. It’s a very odd feeling.”

Kowalzik says teachers are working to get timely and accurate information out to parents, but many have unanswered questions.

Some are turning to a new Facebook group formed to help families in isolation get the essentials they need. Parents there are answering questions and sharing links to public health updates.

“I think the biggest problem is just understanding the requirements now,” said Michelle Haigh, who is isolating with her family after attending a soccer tournament at Yellowknife’s fieldhouse last weekend.

“Sometimes you feel like you’re in a dark corner, waiting for the light to shine.”

Guidance for people attending that tournament has shifted over time. Spectators were initially included in that guidance, then deleted from it. At the moment, anyone who was a player, coach, or referee at the tournament is considered a contact and must isolate and book a Covid-19 test.

Haigh says she tried to follow the health advisory by arranging a test, but there were no dates available. She and her husband then tried to cancel their vaccine appointments but found it difficult to do so online.

“You’re always kind-of searching for information,” she said. “Trying to piece the puzzle together.”

Kowalzik paid tribute to the bravery and resilience of the school’s students amid that uncertainty, and thanked parents for their messages of support. He promised the school was doing what it could to get the right information about testing and online learning to parents.

“Really, we are here to try to do whatever we can to help the families,” he said. “They can always email me. I’m always available.”