In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, education bodies are taking proactive measures to mitigate any potential associated health risks in schools by implementing the directives prescribed by the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer in the guidance document Interim Outbreak Response Protocol – Interim Guidance for the NWT.
NWT Education Leaders met via videoconference with Education, Culture and Employment Minister R.J. Simpson and the NWT Teachers’ Association on August 18th to discuss school readiness and response protocols for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.
The document outlines comprehensive requirements using the following outbreak prevention and exposure control measures:
- Physical Distancing
- Engineering Controls
- Administrative Controls
- Infection Prevention and Control Prevention
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
R.J. Simpson, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment notes that as schools start to re-open, the health and safety of students and educators are at the forefront of everyone’s priorities.
“We have worked with the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer and education bodies to ensure that every school is implementing best-practices based on the most up to date research, in order to create positive learning environments in which students and staff can feel safe.”
All 49 schools in the NWT have had their detailed risk assessment and exposure plans for reopening approved by the OCPHO. Education bodies have started communicating the details of these plans to students, families and communities.
Simpson mentioned that over the past number of months, the Department of ECE and education bodies have worked hard to create school re-opening plans that will ensure all students in the NWT can continue their education during the upcoming school year.
“While consideration has been given to the unique circumstance of each community and school, every reopening plan has been developed in accordance with guidelines provided by the OCPHO. These guidelines, which are based on the most up to date research from across Canada and around the world, place the utmost importance on protecting students, staff, families, and communities.”
Simon Cloutier, CSFTNO representing all Education Leaders stated that all Education Bodies worked diligently through the summer to produce Reopening Plans for all NWT students.
“Schools will reopen and principals and staff will be prepared to welcome students safely. We thank students, parents and staff for their patience and ask for their continued support as we welcome them back.”
The majority of students in the NWT will begin full time, in-person classes in the fall. However, some students will participate in blended learning, which is a combination of in-person and at home education.
Simpson notes that the reality is that some schools simply do not have enough space within their existing facilities or in their communities to accommodate all students full time while complying with physical distancing requirements mandated by the OCPHO.
“I understand that parents, students and teachers will have many questions as we get closer to the first day of school. I want to reassure you that we are working diligently with education bodies and the OCPHO to ensure that school re-opening plans provide an effective learning environment for students while prioritizing the health, safety and well-being of all students, staff and communities.”
In order to support the students and teachers participating in blended learning, ECE and a number of other departments have been working in collaboration with education bodies to standardize online learning platforms and address gaps in access to technology.
This work is being informed by the education system’s recent experience with distance learning stated Simpson.
“There is no doubt that schools will look and feel different this year. We will need to be flexible and responsive, as well as patient and understanding, as we all adjust to a new model of learning.”