Students’ mental health key in keeping schools open: Nunavut health minister

School staff getting 35,000 rapid COVID-19 tests in March

Health Minister John Main thanked Nunavut teachers for their hard work amid the COVID-19 pandemic and changing restrictions in schools. (File Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Mélanie Ritchot

The Government of Nunavut is pushing to keep schools open despite active COVID-19 cases in most communities because closures impact students’ mental health, says Nunavut’s health minister, John Main.

“Lockdowns and closures are very hard, especially on our young people,” he said during the government’s weekly COVID-19 update.

Main jumped into the conversation when Government of Nunavut officials were asked about classes being cancelled due to teachers needing to isolate, and the justification of opening schools while the Omicron wave of the pandemic is still active in Nunavut.

“If we keep that mental health issue in mind, it might help to explain why we’re trying so hard to keep schools open,” he said.

Main also thanked school staff for the work they’ve been doing during the pandemic.

Education Minister Pamela Gross said she doesn’t know the number of classes that have been cancelled, but gave percentages of teachers and school staff who are in isolation.

As of Feb. 11, her most recent data, 4.9 per cent of staff in the Qikiqtani region, six per cent of Kivalliq staff and 8.4 per cent of staff in the Kitikmeot region were in isolation.

The department says that teachers must isolate if they have one symptom of COVID-19.

Gross has encouraged all students to go to school.

When asked what parents should do if their kids’ classes are cancelled and they’re not receiving learning packages at home, Gross said “we’ve heard great examples across our schools where the schools are being innovative and resourceful to ensure that learning continues.”

She gave examples like in Igloolik, where local radio is being used to broadcast trivia and math bingo. In other communities, teachers are interacting with students over the phone and coming up with other learning activities, she said.

“We also continue to navigate the school closures and we’ll develop more creative ways to keep students engaged in learning,” Gross said.

Rapid antigen tests will be distributed to school staff over the coming weeks, Gross also announced.

Eligible staff include teachers and substitutes, daycare workers and Department of Education employees. More than 35,000 tests will be sent out to communities on a rolling basis starting in early March.

First, shipments will go to Kitikmeot communities, then to the Kivalliq, then Qikiqtani, said Gross.

Across Nunavut, schools are either open at 50 per cent or 100 per cent capacity for in-person learning.

Earlier this month, when Iqaluit’s schools first opened at 100 per cent capacity, about 20 teachers were off work because they had to isolate, which led to the cancellation of classes.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, has been asked why schools in Iqaluit are open at full capacity while the city has the highest case count in the territory.

He said the capacity limits in schools are based on the risk of transmission inside individual classrooms. Patterson gave the example of cancelling a teacher’s classes when that teacher went into isolation after a COVID-19 exposure.

“We’re not going to reduce that risk by also reducing the capacity of the entire school,” he said.

Earlier in the month, Patterson said there would have to be five cases reported in a single classroom for an outbreak to be declared in a school.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Name withheld on

    If schools needs to have 5 confirmed cases of Covid in a single class room to declare emergency.

    Makes me wonder now. ??

    How many confirm cases of Covid it will take for members of the MLAs to cancel the whole year ? As they have postpone till March ? ?

    John if I recall when Arviat had a outbreak you insist the Army be called into Arviat to assist in getting it under control.

    I think you should bite your lips close as this one will surely bit you where it sits on the chair.

    • Posted by Lack of information. on

      Nothing is happening when a classroom has many students out because of Covid. A classroom I know has/had 7 students out with confirmed Covid (only known because parents informed the teacher). There are probably more classrooms with 5 or more students who are out for Covid. But no outbreaks are declared. Outbreaks are happening and students are still coming. Daycares are shutting down due to exposure. GN: Just call a spade a spade and be truthful with the public about what’s really happening in schools/the community. There is such a loss of trust right now.

      If a child is absent due to isolation it is the parent/guardian who needs to contact the school to ask for work to be sent home. When this happens, work is sent home that is being done in class, although not all packages are being picked up even when requested.

  2. Posted by iRoll on

    ” we’ll develop more creative ways to keep students engaged in learning,” Gross said.

    No one believes this, Pamela. No one, and no one should.

    This is not personal, you are a new Minister, but we are going into year 3 and we are to believe that now government will begin coming up with some “creative” ideas?

    No, governments aren’t typically creative, ours especially has a breathtaking inability to see even beyond the length of its own nose, let alone think “creatively” about anything.

    We all know this, we all tolerate it because we have no choice but to, but no one believes any of this non-sense about “creative this” or “creative that.” Please…

  3. Posted by Aasi on

    The system is a joke. Teachers are one of only public service employee groups not required to be vaccinated. Yet they are high risk for contact and spread. They keep pushing to vaccine our kids but don’t push the teachers to. No rapid access tests for schools until after the grocery stores etc got them first. No system in place for school work for kids isolating due to “potential” covid exposure. Edsby was supposed to be the answer and it failed miserably. Millions spent on it, tablets, laptops, and data sticks for kids to take home. And still it was underutilized.

    Mandates are lifting in a lot of places and we are still trying to figure out how to deal with this bug and fighting each other over who is an antivaxxer etc.

    All the while our kids are expected to stay at home, not visit friends and given no direction for schooling. The system and GN failed our kids. In a territory already struggling with a mental health crisis our MLA’s failed to act until now, two years after the fact.

  4. Posted by GN – Please be Truthful – even a little on

    It will affect their mental health by being out of school because it will increase their exposure to their dysfunctional parents. Parents that are working from home or on income assistance – which are becoming more difficult to distinguish from each other by the day – will be terrible influences on their children. This is a result of The Beer and Wine store being open without any supports for those suffering from alcoholism and mental health issues. Kids will have to be in school because there is only one thing to fear there: the under-reported cases of Covid. Not being in school will present a plethora of dangers from family and friends of the family.

  5. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    The only creative ideas put out by this minister is how they are making us believe work is being done behind the scenes, how ideas and plans being formulated and please send your children to school but don’t worry the GN Legislative Assembly is postponed until March because of the ongoing pandemic and dangerous omicron variant.

    By the way, make sure YOU go to work and duty travel, sure go for it and fly where ever you need to.


  6. Posted by John K on

    The Government of Nunavut needs kids in class so Iqaluit’s parents can go back to work.

    Iqaluit is the Territory’s engine… we’ve all watched the emails roll in as every community around us closes for the same blizzard we’re working through, so there is no sense denying it. That engine is sputtering because so many people are at home.

    When Iqaluit stops working Nunavut stops working.

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