We have to admit that we’re a bit conflicted about plans to reopen schools in the fall.

On the one hand, it’s obviously essential that young people get an education so they have a better chance to lead rewarding lives.

On the other hand, schools would be reopening in the face of, you know, a pandemic.

And if we accept the predictions of health experts, Covid-19 may roar back with a vengeance in the fall and winter.

On July 3, the GNWT released its plan for safely reopening schools this fall.

The plan outlines how schools can prioritize the health and safety of students, staff and communities. It includes various learning approaches that schools may use, depending on the circumstances of the pandemic.

Schools have already submitted reopening plans, which are being reviewed by Dr. Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer.

According to the GNWT, all schools are planning to reopen with a focus on providing as much in-person education as possible, and with details varying from school to school, all while following directions on Covid-19 from Kandola.

In a GNWT news release, Kandola said she is “confident” the plan forms a solid foundation for a safe, gradual return to school.

“Infection control, staggered classes and physical distancing measures will help the learning cycle get going again, while protecting from the spread of Covid-19,” she said. “These measures will only grow in importance as the pandemic continues to unfold across Canada.”

Of course, all that sounds wonderful in the reassuring and slightly incoherent world of GNWT news releases.

Anyone reading it should remember that the GNWT’s news releases and other government documents are not necessarily designed to tell the whole truth, but are more about ‘communicating’ the government’s messages and have the public believe them.

So while the GNWT says that reopening schools can be done effectively and safely, we have our doubts.

If it will be safe to get students back together in one place for hours a day, why has the Hay River Community Centre been closed since March? Why were families told to hunker down for months? Why are people still not shaking hands? Why are many wearing facemasks wherever they go?

And forgive us for being skeptical, but it seems that many of the accepted assumptions about Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic are now believed to have been incorrect. We seem to remember that it was once believed that people could not spread the coronavirus if they were asymptomatic, and that wearing facemasks was not really considered an effective way to slow the spread of the virus.

And now, is a return to school also based on assumptions – educated guesses, if you will? Of course, one of the biggest assumptions is that younger people are not as susceptible to Covid-19 as older people, which seems for the moment to be supported by statistics.

Like everyone else, we hope that children can safely return to school in the fall.

However, hoping for something is not going to make it a reality.

The GNWT’s plan for reopening schools does have many practical steps that seem to make good sense, but it strikes us as being a hopeful and aspirational document.

There’s probably nothing wrong with that, but the GNWT’s plan also admits that it “cannot control or predict” the realities of the pandemic.

That’s the bottom line for this lesson.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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