Diamond Jenness Secondary School and all other schools in the NWT opened this week for the 2020-2021 school year with precautions in place because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Schools in the NWT, including Hay River, reopened this week with precautions because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The schools, which have been closed since March, opened their doors on Aug. 31.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer for the NWT, said she is confident with the reopening plans prepared for each school, all approved by her office.

“We’ve been working many, many hours over the summer very closely with the folks at the Education, Culture and Employment ministry, as well as the school boards and the superintendents and schools directly,” she said during a media availability on Aug. 26. “So they’ve worked really hard and (this) week you’ll start to see some of those plans being implemented right away.”

Kandola was asked what advice she could offer to parents as schools reopen, and she said parents need to ensure they are paying close attention to the health of their children.

“Parents can play their part in that, if any of their children have any symptoms of Covid-like illness, like colds or flu-like symptoms, that they keep that child at home and call the health care provider that knows about the next steps,” she said, adding each school has sent communication materials to the parents, and there is more information online.

She said if anyone has travelled out of the territory, or if someone is going to visit a family after travelling out of the territory in the previous 14 days, they need to self-isolate for 14 days before they send their children to school.

“And within that framework pretty much if they’ve screened that population out, kids can go to school,” she said.

Kandola said there will be many changes to schools, such as where students can enter and leave, bubbles around classrooms, physical distancing from Grade 7 to Grade 12, and more.

“You won’t be seeing these mass assemblies that you had in the past,” she said. “But there are very creative ways to make sure that every child will get the full education that they need and deserve this school year.”

Changes to transportation

There will even be changes on school buses.

On a school bus, there’s a limited amount of space which will not allow physical distancing in a practical manner, said Kandola. “So for the school bus what we have recommended is the use of non-medical masks by the students taking the school bus and also by the driver.”

Curtis Brown, superintendent of the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC), believes the schools are ready to reopen, and said health and safety is a priority.

“We’re not the experts on the pandemic, but the schools obviously have a huge role to play,” he said. “There’s no part of a principal’s or a teacher’s job right now that’s static. It’s not business as usual. Everything is having to be re-thunk, absolutely everything.”

Brown said that school principals, with the support of their District Education Authorities and the SSDEC, have developed school reopening plans in a way that adheres to the guidelines and requirements set out by Kandola, and he is confident that the schools are well set up for reopening.

Brown was asked how many students he expects will actually return to school, or if more parents might opt for homeschooling.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I think there are people on both ends of the spectrum.”

Brown believes there are parents who trust in the guidelines of the chief public health officer, and know that teachers and schools will diligently follow those rules.

On the other hand, he believes some parents will be concerned about sending their children back to school no matter what rules are put in place.

“What percentage of parents are feeling one way or the other, I honestly don’t know,” he said, noting he suspects enrolment will be very high.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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