The Yellowknife Education District No. (Yk1) and Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS) have moved to close their schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

In a teleconference Tuesday morning, a Yk1 motion recommending to close schools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic received unanimous votes in favour by all seven members of the Yk1 board of trustees.

The motion was issued following the advice of the chief public health officer on Sunday that all social gatherings be cancelled to facilitate social distancing.

J.H. Sissons school, scheduled to be demolished this summer is among several issues still to be discussed by officials from Yk1 and the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. NNSL file photo

Joining the teleconference were several parents of Yk1 students, who expressed concern over several issues including whether online learning would be introduced for the remainder of the school year, the transitioning between grades and what would happen with Grade 12 graduation.

“I’m concerned about how we’ll help the Grade 11 and 12 (students). The last thing I want to see is them held back, even understanding the gravity of this situation worldwide,” said one parent. 

“We have to send the Grade 12s back (to school). It’s so important we send them back so they can finish their diplomas and head on to university,” said another parent. 

One parent asked what will happen with diploma exams after Alberta last week cancelled its provincial and diploma exams because of the pandemic.

The trustees acknowledged the parents’ concerns, and board chairperson Tina Drew said the situation with Grade 12 students is one of the top priorities for Yk1 at this time.

A number of key issues would be discussed with officials from the Department of Education, Culture and Employment on Wednesday, said superintendent Metro Huculak.

That includes the possibility of online learning for the rest of the school year, Grade 12 graduation, the schedule for the demolition of the J.H. Sissons school, and the provision of school lunches for students from low-income families.

“We’re working on a plan for (the lunches),” said Drew. “That’s one of our biggest concerns.” 

“I have some ideas on how we can support families, not just with food but also with respite,” said Huculak. 

The trustees also emphasized that the gravity of the pandemic meant that Yk1 had to take the difficult step of closing schools.

“I’ve had a sense since this started that this is much bigger than we were first informed. We have to do our part. We have to focus on the health of our citizens. And we can focus on education once everything that can be done to support health is done,” said trustee John Stephenson. 

In a message on its website on Tuesday afternoon, YCS said it is prepared to support the recommendation to close schools for the 2019-2020 year. NNSL Media has reached out to the Catholic board for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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