Information on JK-12 schools

Last modified: 
Fri, 07/03/2020 - 16:57


Reopening Schools Safely in 2020-2021

In order to ensure the health and safety of our students and educational staff during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, schools will be required to meet the recommendations of the NWT Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) and the requirements of the Worker’s Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) while supporting the learning and well-being of all NWT students.

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) is assisting all NWT education bodies and the Northwest Territories’ Teachers Association (NWTTA) with coordinated, system-wide planning for the upcoming school year, based on the detailed criteria provided by the CPHO on how to safely reopen schools in Emerging Wisely: Path to Eased Public Health Restrictions.

Based on the continually evolving situation of COVID-19, the upcoming 2020-2021 school year will not be a return to normal for educational staff and students. Most classrooms will be arranged differently, students and staff will need to use masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), and there will be new rules to enforce hygiene and physical distancing. 

Although teachers and school staff will be doing everything they can to ensure school continues to be a safe, supportive and inclusive environment, it is likely going to look and feel different for everyone. We also recognize there will be challenges for both students and staff in returning to school after a lengthy break from classroom-based learning, and that the social and emotional needs of students will need to be prioritized throughout the transition back into school. 

While we cannot control or predict the realities of the pandemic, we are committed to ensuring that learning continues for all NWT students, regardless of the circumstances. Schools are building flexibility into their planning to prepare for a possible second wave of COVID-19, both to ensure that schools are able to remain open as much as possible and that teachers can adapt models of learning to the changing COVID-19 situation.

What parents and students can expect

All NWT schools have submitted plans for approval by the OCPHO to reopen their doors for the 2020-2021 school year. Schools are striving to provide a safe way for students to receive as much in-person, curriculum-based instructional time in classrooms with teachers as possible, with new health and safety procedures and restrictions in place.

How education is delivered will be different for each school and community, based on factors such as school size and layout, grade levels taught, the number of students and staff, access to technology, and the unique needs of individual students, including those who are at-risk or have complex needs. 

To accommodate physical distancing requirements for different grades, some schools will need to use learning spaces other than classrooms, possibly outside of the school. Education bodies have been working with community governments, organizations and agencies to identify appropriate and available spaces for this purpose. Other schools are looking to address space shortages by having students learning in shifts, with some students attending classes in the morning and others in the afternoon, or on alternating days. Changes in attendance will affect bussing schedules, and schools are working to address these arising needs.

While details on specific health and safety measures will vary from school to school, there are some general measures that will be enacted in schools across the NWT to help maintain physical distancing. The following sections outline the various measures that parents, students and communities can expect to see at schools during the 2020-2021 school year.

Continued learning & wellness supports

  • Schools will provide full-time in-person learning whenever possible and safe to do so.
  • Schools will ensure that opportunities for learning continue at home or on the land for the portion of the school day that students cannot be in school.
  • Students who cannot attend school will receive remote learning and ongoing contact from school staff to supplement in-school instruction.
  • Counselling programming will continue remotely and potentially in-person.
  • Focus will be placed on mental health supports, including for those learning remotely.
  • Focus will be placed on self-regulation and social/emotional learning to help students cope with changes in school.
  • Food programs will continue to be available with additional health and safety, physical distancing and hygiene measures in place.
  • Changes to instructional time and curriculum requirements may be required in light of the continuing COVID-19 situation and the strains placed on teachers, students, parents, guardians and education bodies. 
  • Increased health & safety measures
  • Parents will be asked to monitor their children daily for symptoms and not send them to school if they are sick. A screening process will be developed and people who are sick will not be allowed in school. If students become sick at school, they will be quickly isolated, parents will be contacted and the student will be sent home.
  • Students will be required to wash their hands frequently, including before coming to school.  They will have access to hand sanitizer when hand washing is not available.
  • Schools will be disinfected more frequently, including classrooms and high touch areas.
  • Schools may stagger drop-off and pick-up times and modify lunch, recess and break times to limit gatherings and promote physical distancing.
  • Schools will have designated entrances and exits, and restrict/manage flow in hallways and common areas with floor markings and/or physical barriers.
  • Students will be asked to label personal items and not share, including food.
  • There will be no assemblies, and there will be limitations on gatherings.
  • There will be changes to student transportation, in line with recommendations by the CPHO. Every student must wear a mask on the bus, and there may also be scheduling changes.
  • Parents, guardians and visitors will have limited access to schools to reduce potential exposure
  • There will be changes to emergency evacuation procedures, fire drills and lockdown procedures.
  • Students will get frequent reminders to minimize physical contact with their friends while remaining socially connected.
  • Some classrooms and instructional time will also look different, with:
    • Increased spacing between desks and other furniture
    • Physical distancing for Grades 7-12
    • Possibly more time spent learning outside 
    • Non-medical masks for students, whenever physical distance cannot be maintained
    • Face shields for teachers and other school staff
    • Changes to school schedules and hours of instruction

Learning approaches

  • In-person learning as much as possible, in classrooms with teachers with additional safety guidelines in place.
  • Blended learning when in-person is not possible. This will mean the student is learning part time in school, as well as part time at home or on the land. Example: A student attends school in the mornings and then returns home in the afternoons to do school work virtually or with take-home paper packages.
  • Distance learning outside of the school at home or on the land used only when students cannot attend school due to health or age (such as ages 19 and over). Students will use online learning, telephone/email check-ins and follow-ups, and/or paper-based learning packages.

Education by grade level

JK-Grade 6

  • Full-time in-person learning 

  • No physical distancing when inside classroom ‘bubble’

Grades 7-9

  • Full-time in-person learning, or blended learning when necessary

  • Physical distancing of 1 metre between students and 2 metres between students and staff

Grades 10-12

  • Full-time in-person learning, or blended learning when necessary

  • Physical distancing of 2 metres between all students and staff

Students aged 19 years and over

  • In compliance with the OCPHO, students aged 19 years and over must learn remotely for their safety, so these students will be supported through distance learning

Staying flexible in changing circumstances

Although we cannot control the circumstances of the pandemic, which could require a school to close temporarily, ECE will be supporting education bodies to reopen schools and keep them open as much as possible during the 2020-2021 school year. If there are new COVID-19 cases, every effort will be made to keep schools open.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a dynamic situation and plans may need to change as new information or new public health and workplace safety requirements are identified. Education bodies are taking a flexible approach in their planning to account for a potential second wave of COVID-19 in the fall of 2020, which includes measures to ensure schools are able to remain open, to the extent possible, if there are new COVID-19 cases in the NWT and that, regardless of circumstances, students will continue to learn.

Schools are preparing to move between in-person, distance and blended learning at a moment’s notice, should the NWT return to a more or less restrictive phase of the Emerging Wisely plan. Parents, guardians, students and communities should be prepared for student learning to change quickly in response to evolving circumstances; for instance, if multiple teachers become ill, if there is a possible or confirmed COVID-19 outbreak at school, or if we return to the Containment Phase of Emerging Wisely as a territory and rules around physical distancing become more strict.

Should there be a case of COVID-19 in the school, parents should be prepared for their child(ren) to be sent home quickly and for contact tracing to be done before schools can reopen. Should a child develop symptoms at school, they will be isolated safely and parents will be contacted to pick them up. If a number of school staff are impacted by COVID-19, school closure may become necessary.

When schools cannot be open full time to all students, students in JK-6 will be the priority for full-time in-person schooling along with those in Grade 12, to ensure they are prepared for post-secondary opportunities.

For more information

The GNWT is committed to providing regular updates to the public as plans move forward for the upcoming school year. ECE will continue to ensure up-to-date information on JK-12 education is made available to parents and students, both online and through schools and education bodies. 

All schools are working to have their detailed reopening plans approved by the OCPHO as soon as possible. The details of these will be made available by schools and education bodies once those plans are reviewed and approved.

For information on COVID-19 related to JK-12 schools, contact your local education body.