Signs at Yellowknife's NJ Macpherson School on May 3, 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Administrators of Yellowknife’s NJ Macpherson School have pushed its reopening to Wednesday next week after a Covid-19 outbreak.
After days of confusion and a scramble to develop a plan, the YK1 school district made the announcement in a letter to parents issued on Friday evening. The district said reopening would be delayed as Covid-19 testing requirements might affect staffing.
Most North Slave schools are reopening on Monday. They had been closed by Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, on May 2 in response to a cluster of Covid-19 cases centred on NJ Macpherson.
Dr Kandola said the final decision regarding reopening would be left to individual school boards.
As of Friday, there were 65 cases related to a Covid-19 cluster associated with the school. Twenty-seven of those cases have since recovered. More than 1,000 people spent the first half of May isolating as a result of exposure to the outbreak.
Yellowknife’s Catholic school board said it plans to reopen schools on Monday. A letter to parents and guardians from YK1 superintendent Ed Lippert suggested that school board also intends to reopen most schools.
NJ Macpherson principal Landon Kowalzik, though, told Cabin Radio on Thursday he was “not sure it’s even possible” for his school to reopen on Monday, given the testing requirements issued to staff and students.
All staff and students who attended the school between April 26 and April 30 were considered direct contacts of the outbreak. All must test negative for Covid-19 between days 10 and 14 of their mandatory two-week isolation before returning to the school. Public health has said receiving a negative result could take three to five days.
“I am not sure we have staff yet,” Kowalzik said on Thursday.
“The testing clinic is today and tomorrow, and the test is supposed to get back in three to five days. However, last time, some people took six or seven days.”
Kowalzik said he had requested a delay in reopening the school, but did not specify how long that delay might be. He said he had been in contact with the YK1 school board in the hope of receiving more clarity.
‘Continuity of learning’
Earlier on Friday, there was still no publicized plan.
However, shortly after 5:30pm, parents of NJ Macpherson students received a letter that stated: “Operationally, we recognize the delay in test results may have an impact on staff availability and their ability to be prepared for in-person learning. As such, the decision to reopen NJ Macpherson School will look different.
“The decision has been made to delay the reopening of NJ Macpherson School to in-person learning to Wednesday, May 19, 2021. For students who are required to self-isolate beyond this date, teachers will continue to offer support to ensure continuity of learning. We strongly encourage our students to return to in-person learning.”
Students of the school have been told by public health they must present evidence of their negative Covid-19 test before being allowed to return. It’s not clear if schools have the legal power to demand such evidence, nor what happens if a family chooses not to have their child tested.
Test appointments were made available between Thursday and Saturday at the dedicated pop-up testing site into which NJ Macpherson has been temporarily transformed for its students and staff.
Meanwhile, Yellowknife Catholic Schools and YK1 said bus routes 2, 6, 8, 11, and 12 will not be in service on Monday as the drivers are isolating.
Chris Cahoon, the Catholic school board’s assistant superintendent of business, said by email the boards would “reassess for Tuesday and update accordingly.”