With the start of the school year just days away for most schools in the NWT, parents and guardians are encouraged to enhance school safety measures by screening their children every morning, according to the NWT Education Bulletin issued on Monday.
The bulletin outlines the safety protocols set down by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment and the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO).
As the first layer of health screening, parents should screen their children for Covid-19 symptoms before they leave for school.
Step One of the screening involves asking the following questions: has the child travelled outside of the NWT, or had close contact with anyone who has travelled outside of the territory in the past 14 days? Has the child had close contact with anyone who is showing symptoms of Covid-19, is awaiting a Covid-19 test result, or has tested positive
for Covid-19 in the past 14 days?
If the answer is “yes” to either or both questions, the child should be kept at home, the child’s school should be contacted and notified of the absence and public health should be contacted for the next steps.
If the answer to both questions is “no”, parents can move to Step Two and check if the child has any of the major Covid symptoms of fever, new or worsening cough, or shortness of breath.
If the child has one or more of those symptoms, the child should stay home and public health should be contacted.
If those symptoms aren’t present, move to Step 3 and assess if the child has any of the minor Covid symptoms of sore throat, runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, headache, feeling unwell or tired, new loss or decrease in sense of taste or smell, or body aches.
If two or more of those symptoms are present, parents should keep the child at home and contact public health for the next steps.
The second layer of screening is to be done by the school as part of the morning and afternoon routines. Staff will screen the classroom of students for Covid symptoms. If they show one major symptom or two minor symptoms, the staff will follow isolation room protocols and take students to one of those rooms in the school where they can lie down while they wait for their parents or guardians to pick them up.
The person showing symptoms and the staff supervising the isolation room will be given surgical masks. Isolation room monitors will have received training in isolation space safety protocols.
Parents will be advised to call Public Health for a medical assessment.
If transporting a student is deemed necessary, staff will follow the emergency transportation protocol of the community in the case of urgent care or follow directions of medical staff if the individual must be transported to a health facility.
Students represent the third layer of screening. They will be taught how to monitor for virus symptoms and and inform their teachers if they feel unwell.
Daily screening for school staff
All staff must self-screen for Covid symptoms daily before entering the school. If staff show one major or two minor symptoms, or if they have been outside of the NWT or in contact with someone who is sick or has a suspected or confirmed case of Covid, they must stay at home. Staff must also inform school administration of their absence and contact their health care practitioner.
Health-care practitioners will inform staff, students and their parents and guardians when it is safe to return to school after a period of self-isolation or illness. The practitioner will also notify the school so that it is aware the student has been approved to return.
“Should a student or staff member return to school before they have been advised to do so, they will be sent home immediately,” the bulletin stated.
Covid outbreak response protocol for schools
The Chief Public Health Officer has the authority to close schools if it is needed to ensure public health.
An outbreak is defined as one case of Covid that has been acquired inside the building.
Parents will be notified if there is an outbreak.
All schools have approved plans on how they will continue to provide education in case of a temporary closure.
The OCPHO determines when a school outbreak is happening, when to close, what to do and and when the outbreak has ended.
During closure, Public Health will work on contact tracing and testing of individuals potentially exposed to Covid. Schools will have entry and exit logs to track anyone who comes into the building so as to facilitate contact tracing.
An outbreak won’t necessarily lead to the closure of other schools in the region.
“This is to be avoided so as to minimize disruption of learning for students,” the bulletin stated.
Many students might feel anxiety about returning to school during the pandemic. Parents and guardians are encouraged to support their children’s mental health by making an effort to listen to their concerns and talk about their feelings.
In addition, mental wellness counselling services will be available for all students in-person, virtually and over the phone.
Support is also available for education staff through the Starling Minds and Lifespeak. Starling Minds is a digital Cognitive Behavioural Therapy platform that provides support to boost mental fitness and health and reduce stress. Staff can contact the NWT Teachers’ Association for further information and for their account logins.
Lifespeak is a total wellbeing platform available to all GNWT employees and their families. It offers confidential access to expert information and videos on a range of topics. GNWT staff can find more information from the Covid-19 section of the My HR website.