What are we to make of the recent revelation that schools in the NWT could reopen this spring, only to see that hastily backtracked by the territorial government?

To be quite honest, we’re not sure what to make of it.

At the very least, there seems to be a failure to communicate, either within the GNWT or by the territorial government with outside groups, i.e. schools.

To summarize, Dr. Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, announced on May 12 that schools could reopen as part of phase one of the Emerging Wisely strategy to ease Covid-19 restrictions. And to be clear, she didn’t say that they should reopen, just that they could.

That still came as a surprise to educators in the NWT, since logistically it was all but impossible for many schools to reopen before the end of this school year. After the mid-March announcement that they were closed for the rest of the school year, some had begun renovations. For others, their teachers are still in the South. And all schools would have to plan changes and get them approved by Kandola’s office.

After a teleconference on May 13 between Education, Culture and Employment Minister R.J. Simpson and the 10 chairs of regional education authorities, it was announced on May 14 that all schools will remain closed.

This episode could be filed under the category of the well-worn axiom ‘no harm, no foul’. After all, there were no real negative impacts to the schools, the students, the parents, or teachers and principals.

It was a two-day strange episode which reached its inevitable conclusion.

So in the overall Covid-19 story in the NWT, it might warrant a paragraph when the history books are written.

However, right now it is more important than that.

It has to raise questions about whether the rest of the reopening plan from Covid-19 has been really thought out, if something as significant as restarting schools wasn’t. Most importantly, the people in the educational system weren’t properly consulted.

In this age of cellphones and emails, how could it be that pertinent information – that it is an illogical idea to even suggest reopening schools this late in the school year – didn’t reach the right people? Or more disturbingly, did our decision-makers not think it was important to ask for input?

Of course, every organization screws up once in a while, and that goes for government as much as anything else. This misjudgement on school reopenings might be as simple as that.

There’s also the possibility of chess blindness. Players – even great players – get focused on a strategy and miss something obvious. Something like that could have happened here.

There should be no shame in making a mistake.

But the problem with politicians and bureaucrats is that admitting a mistake is something to be avoided at all costs. It is almost never done. Call it the Trump factor.

So we may never know the real reason that reopening schools was suggested, only to be so roundly rejected when educators found out about it.

That’s too bad, because an honest accounting of what happened might prevent something similar occurring once again in the future, and that is important in this Covid-19 crisis.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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