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 will return to classes in Nunavut starting in August. This plan, released today by the Government of Nunavut, outlines how schools will respond if COVID-19 is detected in a community. (Photo by Meagan Deuling)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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.”

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Ken on

    To be on the safe side there should be some social distancing to be on the safe side, things are not back to normal and it won’t be for a long time, good practice and learning to stay safe.

  2. Posted by Bob on

    When will this doctor drop the 14 day quarantine??

  3. Posted by White Guy on

    My mind is blown that there are no comments on here.

  4. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    Hi GN, to go along with this scenario we need rapid testing and results.
    Nunavut has been fortunate so far that no asymptomatic cases have occurred. Will this situation continue? The odds are against it, even with mandatory southern isolation. (remember when you were a teenager and snuck out of the house to be with your friends?).
    I would think that a 24 hour turnaround time would be needed to pull of going back to school in a safe manner. If anyone is Covid-19 positive in a community I think that after 24 – 48 hour a good proportion of the community could be infected. Anyone who is Covid positive needs to be caught before this happens.
    Getting 20+ rapid Covid-19 tests and instructions on how to use them should be at the top of the GN wish list. It would be money well spent.

  5. Posted by Really? on

    Not sure that I believe that there are only 30 vacant positions in the territory.

    Numbers can easily be manipulated.
    How many indeterminate employees left at the end of this past school year?
    How many positions were/are actually filled by qualified teachers?

    What of those individuals who were in the south when the March shut-down happened and who did not return?
    There seemed to be something weird going non in a few place with term extensions this past spring –at least in a few places. People being offered extensions, who responded affirmatively only to find out that they weren’t having their contract extended after all- Nunavut has been crying out for certified teachers– I just don’t get the idea of pushing out interested people.
    Does anyone really believe that this has been one of the best recruiting years for teachers?
    Are schools actually getting a teacher for situations where the school should be picking up additional teaching positions? Is there not a situation(s) where positions weren’t being advertised because the GN was taking housing units to hold for possible community isolation spots?
    How many communities is this happening in? (for how many new positions). Basically a hiring freeze of sorts.
    There are more numbers to be squeezed out of the government.

    • Posted by Consistency on

      Is it possible that because of Covid many teachers from the south think that this might be the safest place to be for the near future. Also a lot of people are out of work and the GN teaching job is just about as secure as they come even if Covid comes back with more restrictions. Friends in the south really are worried all they time of Covid, we kinda forget up here but there are a lot of scared people in the south. maybe that is why more applied. Just a thought.

      • Posted by Really on

        Definitely a possibility.

        We do know that were Covid to get into a community it could be a nightmare. We do not have access to the same types of health care in Nunavut. Being stuck/trapped in a remote arctic community because all passenger flights could be cancelled is a big deterrent.
        I know that my school had positions that were posted more than once, that received few or no applicants. This community school was to have additional teaching positions for the coming year too–> that position was not advertised in the spring because the GN snagged staff housing in case Covid reached the community (not saying this is a bad emergency measure, but it means we’re short teachers as a result. This is why I commented about what are the ‘real’ numbers). I really do not think that there’s been an increase in people applying to come north.

        Christmas holidays this coming year will be interesting – how many people want to be completely cut off from family and friends –> 2 week holiday & 14 days in an isolation hub kind of don’t go together) (I realize that one can Facetime or Skype & yes, there are a number of people who would not travel to the south at Christmas anyway)
        Ontario is facing the possibility of needing to hire hundreds of additional teachers because of their limits to the number of people in one classroom, etc.

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