Nunavik schools plan staged return to classes, with masks and social distancing

All students must be properly enrolled, school board says

This graphic shows which Nunavik students need to wear facemasks and when. (Image courtesy of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq)

By Jane George

If you have children heading back to school in Nunavik, the region’s Kativik Ilisarniliriniq school board wants you to come to their school next week to enrol them.

As of Monday, Aug. 31, administrative staff and teachers will be at KI’s 17 schools to help with the necessary process.

Completing this paperwork is the first step to getting your child back to school, said KI President Robbie Watt.

Information about when to come in to the schools for enrolment will be circulated in all communities, Watt said.

“Children will not be able to come to school if it’s [the paperwork’s] not filled out,” Watt said.

Schools in Nunavik have been closed since KI shut down classes and schools on March 24, as much of Quebec went into lockdown due to COVID-19.

The enrolment paperwork is now important because, among other things, the schools and KI need to know which families have internet access.

“We want to learn about online connectivity,” Watt said. “Who [has] and who doesn’t have it? Who has a laptop? Who has internet? Those are the core things,” Watt said.

The information could become important to obtain services and funding in the case of another lockdown or a move to more online classes, Watt said.

“Right now we are collecting information if we ever have to fight to have every child have access to internet,” he said.

After the enrolment period is finished, the schools will gradually open.

“I do know that many children in Kuujjuaq anyway are eager to go back to school,” Watt said.

But it might not be an easy transition for them.

“There are kids who are all eager to go back to school, but the impacts of COVID and being out of school for some time, it’s going to start surfacing, depending on how traumatized the children are by this pandemic,” Watt said.

As for the impacts on learning, that will become clearer after school starts and the academic year unfolds, he said.

Since the beginning of August, teachers have been returning to Nunavik in batches, undergoing two weeks of isolation when they arrive in their communities.

Harriet Keleutak, KI’s director general, told Nunatsiaq News that, with respect to teacher numbers, KI is in a much better position this year than last year.

There are only three homeroom teacher vacancies to fill, compared to 19 vacant homeroom teacher positions at a similar date last year, she said.

“In total, the school board is still looking to recruit 31 teachers, compared to 84 teaching vacancies at a similar date last year,” she said. “These 31 teaching vacancies include English and French second-language teachers, as well as Inuktitut teachers.”

Overall, KI employs about 300 teachers, roughly 150 from the south.

About half of these returned north this year, Watt estimated.

Schools are still recruiting janitorial staff.

All schools have received a deep cleaning, Watt said, but they won’t open up until regular cleaning staff is in place.

When the schools do open their doors, students won’t all arrive at the same time.

For example, on Sept. 11 in Kuujjuaq, secondary students will meet their teachers for the first time and then divide into groups.

Starting on Sept. 14 through Sept. 17, they will alternate their attendance at Jaanimmarik School: one group will attend school on Monday and Wednesday, while the other group will attend on Tuesday and Thursday. On Sept. 18 both groups will have class together, Watt said.

Nunavik’s guidelines on COVID-19 prevention in schools largely dovetail with those of Quebec with respect to the use of facemasks and social-distancing measures, designed to keep students safe.

KI will provide disposable facemasks to students and staff as needed.

Students in kindergarten through Grade 4 are not required to wear facemasks. There will be no social distancing, although staff working with the children will wear protective equipment, KI said.

Students in Grade 5 and up are required to wear a facemask when moving around in school, while riding the school bus, and when not when seated in the classroom, KI said.

Staff will wear a facemask when moving through the school, adult education centre or student residence, when at a distance of less than two metres from students, and when driving or riding the school bus, KI added.

Visitors are required to wear facemasks when inside schools, adult education centres and student residences.

But they may remove their masks if seated at a distance of 1.5 metres from another person, for example, during a special event held at school, such as a concert, show or presentation.

The start-up of schools in Quaqtaq and Kangiqsujuaq and at Salluit’s Ikusik high school will be delayed due to construction, but KI said that “interim solutions are currently being developed for students in these communities.”

KI operates 17 elementary and secondary schools in Nunavik’s 14 communities.

In 2016-17, there were 3,686 students registered in those schools.

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