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The issue: education

We say: schools need to start fall planning

A lot of us are thinking about that “first day of school” feel.

Where new shoes or outfits may have been fan favourites during childhood, a fresh haircut would take the cake today. Though front-of-mind for the bushy masses now weeks into the public health shutdown of the territory, barbers and hair salons represent just one aspect of the economy the territory need to fire back up and the daily life residents all ache for to return.

Schools, on the other hand, are a sort of bellwether or maybe a linchpin for the rest of society: until they are functioning normally, nothing else can really fully restart. Teachers aren’t babysitters, but where children go during work hours is a primary concern of any working parent and the longer students go without classroom instruction, the worse off the territory will be in the future.

The release of the territorial government’s Emerging Wisely plan to return to post-Covid-19 life created some panic in education circles as schools were unexpectedly listed among the chosen aspects of society that would be allowed to reopen first.

Some types of businesses and facilities like movie theatres and dine-in restaurants have to wait for phase two, which is estimated to take place in mid- or late June. Others still, including public pools, college campuses and bars will have to wait for phase three, which is so far off the GNWT won’t even speculate on when it could occur.

The education department issued a press release shortly thereafter announcing that education leaders from around the territory had agreed to keep schools closed for the remainder of the school year.

Catherine Son, a Grade 5 and 6 teacher at Weledeh Catholic School connects with her students through Google Meet. photo courtesy of Catherine Son

So what happens in the fall?

The caveat included with each phase of the recovery plan is that if certain “triggers” like “Widespread rule-breaking which leads to community spread,” “community spread and we don’t know where it started from” or “cluster or group outbreaks where Covid-19 spreads very quickly,” occur, suggests the territory’s reopening is a fragile one. Anything but good news going forward and the territory is potentially back to square one. 

We will be watching closely to see where chief public health officer Kami Kandola places the threshold for a re-introduction of more restrictive social distancing rules. How many infections is Kandola willing to accept before shutting us down again? Is she intent on keeping our Covid count at zero?

Educators in particular will need this information as they prepare for what hopefully will be a relatively uneventful, although undoubtedly a much different start to the school in September than in previous years. They made it clear to the GNWT last week that schools can’t turn on a dime. 

That’s why it’s important the government is communicating with school districts and for the districts to begin planning for a fall reopening now. The territory can ill-afford a furlough with its education system extending into the new year. Yellowknife school districts have gamely tried to continue some form of instruction through weekly emailed assignments but this is no substitute  for classroom instruction and not every student has access to the internet.

Going back to school is not something that can be raised the week before. The conversation needs to begin now.

 

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