With no cases of COVID-19, Nunavut plans to reopen schools
Department of Education releases plan outlining how it will react to increased risk of COVID-19
Students in Nunavut will return to classes this coming August and September, with a few modifications to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
As there are currently no confirmed cases of the disease in the territory, all schools are expected be open full-time to all students five days a week, with all instruction taking place at school.
The Government of Nunavut released its official school reopening plan today. It’s largely the same as the draft plan obtained two weeks ago by Nunatsiaq News, which details how the Department of Education will respond to COVID-19.
“This is the first time we’re going through this type of experience,” said David Joanasie, the education minister, at a July 24 news conference. “We’re very mindful and thankful for the patience people have shown to date.”
District education authorities will determine which sports and other extracurricular activities will be running when schools open, under the guidelines of the chief public health office, said Joanasie.
Physical education classes and assemblies will be “limited,” according to the plan. Students will be allowed to eat in common areas, but won’t be allowed to share food and drinks. “Enhanced cleaning” will also be going on in the schools, and “where possible, physical contact should be avoided,” the plan states.
Breakfast programs will run as usual, confirmed Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer.
The plan, which will eventually be posted online, outlines how the Department of Education will respond to cases of COVID-19.
There are four stages of risk, and corresponding restrictions placed on in-school learning.
Nunavut is currently at stage one, with no cases of COVID-19.
In stages two and three, some students will be learning from home, some from school. In stage four, schools will be shut down.
Each region or community can be at a different stage, depending on the presence or risk of transmission of COVID-19 in that area.
Since Nunavut doesn’t have any cases, the GN has time to work out kinks in how it will deliver the same level of education to all students, whether they’re at home or in class.
The goal of the plan is that “students will continue to learn and teachers will continue to teach, no matter what stage a community is in,” Joanasie said.
In the spring, when schools shut down, teachers created learning packages so students could finish their year at home. However, students weren’t evaluated on this work. Joanasie said at the time that was in recognition of the fact students don’t have the same level of support available at home.
But if schools do close this coming year, the work students do at home will be evaluated.
Joanasie said teachers will identify students who may need more support due to circumstances in their homes, and will assist “as far as we can.”
“My department is developing a guideline for staff on assessments of learning loss, recovery learning and techniques for teaching in a blended in-school or at home environment,” Joanasie said.
The Department of Education is “currently exploring options” to enable all students to access online resources if learning has to be done from home, Joanasie said.
Stages two and three require class sizes to be reduced, so some students work from home, and some in-class. A staggered schedule will be created to make this work, Joanasie said.
If schools have to shut down or restrict services due to an increased threat of COVID-19, there are currently no plans in place to continue school meal programs.
“We still have work to do on that,” Patterson said. “We just have to figure out how to do it in a way that’s safe for the children and safe for the people involved in providing the support.”
If COVID-19 is detected in a community, or if contact tracing connects a risk of transmission to a community, District Education Authorities and the Commission Scolaire Francophone du Nunavut will communicate changes in stages to parents.
“Going from a lower to a higher stage is pretty easy,” Patterson said. If COVID-19 is detected, schools will be closed “until we know what’s going on.”
Going down from a high stage to a lower one will take more time, and will require isolation and contact tracing. It may take a few days or longer, “depending on the community and circumstances,” Patterson said.
Joanasie said that the reopening plan was developed in consultation with the DEAs.
“The DEAs have been asking quite a few questions,” he said, “understandably so, many people have questions.”
A member of the Iqaluit DEA complained in a letter to the department that was shared with Nunatsiaq News that there were “information vacuums” in how the upcoming school year would unfold.
Joanasie said his department aims to improve “communication gaps” moving forward.
Some students return to school as early as mid-August—a full calendar is posted online.
Since teachers aren’t classified as critical workers, those returning to the territory from southern Canada have to undergo 14 days of isolation at one of four southern locations. Joanasie said he did not know how many teachers are currently in isolation, how many have to go into isolation, or how many are in the territory.
He did say that there are “roughly 30” vacant positions in Nunavut, saying that this is better than the 74 vacant positions this time last year.
“It does not appear that COVID-19 has had an impact on educator recruitment this year,” he said.
There are three empty positions in the Kitikmeot, eight in the Kivalliq and 19 in Qikiqtani.
“Those numbers can very easily change as recruitment is ongoing and schools start to reopen.”