Education Leaders from across the Northwest Territories (NWT) met via teleconference with Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) Minister R.J. Simpson, the NWT Teachers’ Association (NWTTA) and NWT Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) Dr. Kami Kandola on May 19, 2020 to discuss planning for the coming 2020-2021 school year.
Last week, Dr. Kandola released Emerging Wisely, the plan to ease public health restrictions in the NWT during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of Phase 1 of the plan, the CPHO recommended schools could be reopened for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, provided they are able to follow new health and safety measures.
While education bodies agreed to keep schools closed for the remainder of the year due to operational challenges with reopening, there was strong agreement that the detailed requirements provided by the CPHO provide schools with the necessary guidance to inform ongoing risk assessment and planning for reopening classrooms in the fall, should the COVID-19 situation remain similar.
Education leaders and the NWTTA were able to hear from Dr. Kandola on the Emerging Wisely plan and current public health information on COVID-19, and ask questions as it relates to planning for the 2020-21 school year to ensure the safety of staff and students.
The discussion focused on current knowledge about COVID-19 infections among children and youth, balancing the social and health impacts of school closures with safety requirements, and the various public health measures to be put in place at schools, including physical distancing requirements, use of personal protective equipment, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, and other types of administrative controls to minimize risk.
Questions from education leaders focused on how schools should put health and safety guidance into practice under the new requirements; for example, how to comply with class size limitations in large schools with lots of students, and how to ensure physical distancing in smaller schools with multiple age groups sharing limited space.
Recognizing the varied circumstances of schools across the NWT and their unique challenges, Dr. Kandola emphasized there would not be a one-size-fits-all approach for reopening classrooms. Education bodies will have the flexibility to determine what works best for them based on their capacity, and the Office of the CPHO will be able to provide direction and assistance on risk mitigation as part of their review of each school’s plan for reopening.
Education bodies will continue to coordinate with ECE and the NWTTA on planning for the upcoming 2020-21 school year based on the most up-to-date recommendations from the CPHO.
The next meeting of NWT Education Leaders and Minister Simpson will take place Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
“The guidance provided by Dr. Kandola in Emerging Wisely provides important direction for how we can safely reopen schools in the fall. I’m grateful for her expertise and openness in working with our Education Leaders to convey the latest public health information and recommendations, and to assist as we balance the need to support our students with the need to protect all residents of the NWT.”
-R.J. Simpson, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment
"The Education Leaders thank Dr. Kandola for providing more clarity around the Emerging Wisely document and its implications for the health and safety of students, staff, parents and visitors. It was acknowledged that we have very different circumstances, be they in the regional centres or in our remote communities, and that each school and district will have to plan for the reentry of students in the way that best aligns to their reality. We also know that we have the support of ECE, the NWTTA and the CPHO moving forward. This support will be crucial in the weeks and months to come. We remain optimistic and we will continue to inform our stakeholders as plans are developed."
-Simon Cloutier, Chair of Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest, on behalf of NWT Education Leaders
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