As the Omicron variant of Covid-19 grips the Northwest Territories, educators were preparing this week for classroom delivery to resume next week.
Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green said in a Jan. 4 news conference that NWT schools would be closed this week as part of the territorial government’s effort to stem a surge in Covid-19 cases. The plan is for schools to reopen Monday for in-person classes, according to Green.
“With hundreds of people returning this week from travel outside the territory, I’m urging them to stay home for a minimum of 72 hours. All GNWT employees returning from travel have been directed to work from home if they are scheduled to work during the first 72 hours after returning to the NWT,” said Green.
The YK1 Education District stated that school closure was for the safety of staff and students.
“All NWT education bodies have agreed,” YK1 wrote in a release.
NWT Teachers Association president Matthew Miller said that Green’s announcement has not meant an extra week of time off for educators. In most cases, teachers have used this week to ensure that lessons are best prepared for delivery as needed on Monday, said Miller.
“I can 100-per-cent guarantee that teachers are not on holidays but are setting up for next week, which would mean being busy in-servicing or going over policy or lesson planning,” he said. “If anyone thinks teachers and staff are on holidays this week, that is not happening and has not been the intent.”
Miller said teachers have been working more directly under their superintendents, but he has made the recommendation that teaching methods be prepared as best as possible for either in-person or virtual circumstances.
“In keeping with the preventative nature of these school closures, educators are required to work from home, in their NWT residence, the week of Jan 4 to 7, 2022,” GNWT spokesperson Briony Grabke. “Schools will not offer online/remote learning during that time but instead will focus on preparing supports for students upon their return the following week. Educators are to use the time to prepare appropriate learning materials to support students upon their return and to prepare online/remote learning materials in the event there are any further shifts in delivery to students. Education bodies are also using that time to prepare equipment and/or other packages to be distributed to support learning.”
As of Thursday evening, Green’s announcement for in-person learning on Monday was still in place, however some NWT schools were beginning to transition to online service.
Chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola told CBC on Jan. 6 that the small communities of Aklavik, Fort Providence, Whati and Behchoko were among those that would host online learning from Jan. 10 to 21.
Still other schools like ?Ehtseo Ayha School in Deline, will have home-based learning until resuming in-person on Jan. 24 and in Colville Lake, there will be online school between Jan 10 and 14.
Miller said he helped facilitate a meeting of more than 60 educators and the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission on Jan. 6 to help answer questions about worker safety and Omicron.
“Teachers probably are as nervous as anyone about going back to work and have questions around masks and whether it is safe to go back and the role the WSCC plays in ensuring a safe workplace,” Miller said. “There is a lot of concern, for example, whether N95 masks are required since Omicron is more of an aerosol and whether cloth masks are going to be part of the workplace. This is info we are monitoring and it is not going to be an easy conversion for teachers in terms of how masks are supposed to be properly fitted.”
Kandola said in an email to Yellowknifer Thursday evening, Dec. 6, that she appreciates the work teachers are putting into responding to changing public health advice.
”This situation is constantly changing and decisions, recommendations and advice are made with the most up to date information available to the CPHO,” she said. “The Northwest Territories is still facing a global pandemic and unfortunately the Omicron variant spreads extremely quickly and decisions are often made as additional information about the spread and risk level becomes available.
“The CPHO appreciates that ability of schools, teachers, staff and parents to pivot, often rapidly, to online learning when the risk of in classroom learning increases to an unacceptable level. These are challenging times and the CPHO recognizes how hard staff in our school systems are working to maintain an educational resources for our children in a difficult time.”
Yellowknifer left a message with Cathy Zenko, executive assistant for superintendent Simone Gessler of the Yellowknife Catholic School board on Jan. 6. Neither returned messages by Thursday afternoon.
Messages were also left with YK1 Education District, however senior authorities were in meetings for most of Thursday.