Yellowknife parents appeared to have a mixed reaction to Yk1 and Yellowknife Catholic Schools’ decision to return to in-person learning this week.

Both boards stated in similar news releases on Jan. 19 that under the advice of chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola that it’s safe for students to resume studies in class.

One mother with an eight-year-old son attending Grade 2 at J.H. Sissons who reached out to NNSL Media ahead of the announcement said her boy needs to be back in class Monday because the constant back and forth between online and in-person classrooms since the pandemic started has negatively impacted his learning and disrupted her household.

NNSL Media has granted the woman anonymity to protect the reputation and source of her family’s livelihood.

“I suppose the biggest issue is, number one, the flip-flopping between in-person learning and online.” she said. “The second problem is that the online learning schedule often changes day by day and the work requirements change day by day.

“Kids have very little access to physical activity. They have very little access to socialization, and this is worse for those families who have unvaccinated parents.”

This year in particular, she noted, has been as difficult as it was between Aug. 30 and Sept. 13, at the start of the schoo year, when kids were in class.

When the fall Covid-19 outbreak happened in Yellowknife, students reverted to remote learning between Sept. 14 and Oct. 25.

Between Oct. 25 and Dec. 22 students were allowed back into school before winter break ran into Jan. 5. On Jan. 10, online learning resumed again.

While keeping her son engaged with school work is challenging enough, she said she also has to manage a toddler in the home to allow the boy to study.

“My son’s frustration level today (Jan. 18), for example, was through the roof with flip-flopping between 30-minute online lessons, trying to get reading and making sure he’s getting his writing work done,” she said. “I’m also trying to see to a two-year-old who is rambunctious and drawing all over my furniture the second she gets a chance.”

The mother said she constantly worries she might not be doing enough to help her son.

“As a parent, you go to bed thinking, ‘Have I done enough for my child?’” she said. “’Have I done enough for their education today? Have I done enough to make sure they’ve learned something? Have I done enough to make sure that they’re happy, healthy social active beings?’

“As parents, I can honestly say that we’re exhausted. I’ve had so many conversations with parents who just say, ‘They cannot close school again. I will lose my mind.’”

Phone ringing off the hook

Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby said on Jan. 19 that her phone had been ringing off the hook all day with parents opposed to returning their children to school.

MLAs were expecting to be briefed further on Thursday evening on the reopening of classrooms.

”I’ve only been contacted by people against it (especially) while Covid numbers are rising,” Nokleby said. “They are worried about the whole house having to isolate when their child inevitably gets sick. In that case it would mean for someone working in the private sector, they would be in trouble. One constituent has told me they will lose their business if they have to isolate.

“If (chief public health officer) Dr. (Kami) Kandola doesn’t mandate children home then parents can’t go to an employer and be supported in working from home to accommodate their children if they choose to keep them home.”

Nokleby said she has also heard concern from parents that most children can’t get vaccinated, that there does not appear to be a plan for responding to a school outbreak and there’s been no communication to parents about risk.

“As well, if a parent is immunocompromised that adds another risk for them that they don’t want to take,” she said.

Dr. Cindi Vaselenak, superintendent and CEO at YK1, said she fully supports Kandola’s recommendations to reopen schools and that safety measures will be in place through masking, class bubbles, forward facing, symptom screening and other measures.

Vaselenak said feedback to the announcement from parents has been mixed, but she sympathizes with parents who insist that online learning doesn’t meet the quality of education of an in-person classroom.

“In-person learning and remote learning platforms are very different,” she said. “It’s hard to build relationships through a computer screen. Everyone has a memory of a favourite teacher and more often that experience speaks to the importance of the relationship versus a connection to subject matter.

“Students are missing social interaction and learning with their peers so we are very happy to welcome students back so they can experience school in the way they had anticipated,” she said. “The back and forth between the two platforms has been difficult for students, parents and teachers to manage.”

‘We have to live with Covid’

Vaselenak said she also fears the long-term impacts of remote learning.

“My greater worry is about learning loss and mental wellness as a result of isolation and education delivery shifts during two years of a pandemic,” she said. “We have to learn to live with Covid and that includes opening schools and providing a consistent learning experience for our students. With Omicron, young people are not a high-risk population for severe symptoms.”

Vaselenak said she is not committed, however, to ensuring schools remain open for the rest of the year.

“It is my greatest hope that we can complete the school year in-person,” she said. “If at a later date with another variant, the CPHO recommended in-person learning created too many risks, I would make a decision based on the information at the time. On Monday, Jan. 24, with all the information given to me by the leading health and government authorities, I am confident we can open safely.”

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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