COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, causes mild to severe respiratory infections. Hundreds of countries are reporting confirmed cases, many of which were community-transmitted. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In the Northwest Territories, serious measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus (five cases have been reported in the territory as of July 30, 2020 - all five have since recovered).
On March 16, 2020, the territory's chief public health officer, in consultation with the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE), made the recommendation to cancel all JK-12 classes until April 14, 2020, as a precautionary measure to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19. Education bodies were notified that all students and staff could be dismissed as of March 16, 2020. The current order from Dr. Kami Kandola regarding travel and self-isolation applies to all school staff and students returning from travel.
On March 24, 2020, the Board of Trustees of Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (YK1) approved a motion to extend class cancellations for its six schools until the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The following day, Education, Culture and Employment Minister R.J. Simpson and NWT education leaders issued a news release recommending that all territorial schools remain closed for the rest of the year.
"Due to the significant health concerns posed by COVID-19 and the importance of following direction from the chief public health officer on social distancing as a way to keep students, staff and communities safe, education leaders have agreed with the recommendation from Minister Simpson that schools be closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year," the news release stated.
"Minister Simpson, education leaders and the Northwest Territories Teachers' Association (NWTTA) recognize the serious impact school closures will have on students, parents, staff and communities, and have agreed that a plan is required to support continued learning for all students, especially those in Grade 12, to achieve their education and career goals. While the immediate priority is not to provide lessons or give instruction it is necessary to identify and secure essential services for supporting students and communities. All parties share the strong interest of parents and communities in ensuring opportunities for continued learning. The NWTTA has advised that teachers are prepared and willing to help students and communities however they can during this unprecedented time.
"The continuation of meal programs, along with counselling and other health and wellness programming, have been identified by ECE, the chief public health officer and education bodies as essential to NWT communities, and work is ongoing to identify which positions and individuals will be involved in providing these programs and services during school closures."
On March 30, 2020, ECE released an NWT Education Bulletin which breaks down how JK-12 academic results and high school course completion will be captured for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. It also discusses grade progressions and reporting, continued learning opportunities, support for online and offline learning, resources for parents, on-the-land learning, remote counselling, food programs and assistive technology. Education bodies have to work towards being able to deliver services in accordance with this bulletin by April 14.
On May 12, 2020, Dr. Kandola released a public document entitled "Emerging Wisely" outlining how the territory can gradually loosen current public health restrictions with no new cases of COVID-19. One recommendation within that document, which was written through a public health lens, suggested that schools could potentially reopen if certain safeguards are in place. Yellowknife, Ndilo and Dettah school boards issued a joint communique on May 13, 2020 indicating that they continue to work with all education partners and are awaiting further direction from ECE. The following day, Minister Simpson issued a communique indicating that education leaders from across the territory agreed to keep schools closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Reasons for this stance include the absence of teachers in some communities, strong concerns from local governments and a lack of personal protective equipment. Education leaders will consider these new public health recommendations as they continue to plan for the 2020-2021 school year.
YK1, ECE, the NWTTA and other regional education bodies continue to hold regular conference calls to discuss shared priorities and objectives. YK1 will continue to populate this webpage with pertinent and timely information as it becomes available. For all other information about COVID-19 and how the Government of the Northwest Territories is responding to it, click here. You can also access daily COVID-19 briefs on the government's Facebook page here.
Please note that YK1's District Office is also closed until further notice as a social distancing measure amid COVID-19 concerns. Staff are still working but mostly from home so may take longer than usual to respond to emails. Please send any urgent matters to email@example.com. Schools also remain closed to the public due to health and safety and sanitation reasons.