Nunavut education authorities 'concerned' about school reopening plan
Among worries are how to abide by physical distancing, paying for cleaning supplies
The Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities is encouraging its local counterparts to adopt the territorial government's four-stage plan to reopen schools amid COVID-19 restrictions, despite its concerns about how to implement it.
On Friday, Nunavut's Department of Education released its final plan for how schools will operate in the 2020-21 school year.
Schools are set to open with no physical distancing requirements, but the four stages of the plan are dependent on whether or not COVID-19 is present in Nunavut, and the risk that it poses. Nunavut is the only jurisdiction in Canada to not have a confirmed case of COVID-19.
The plan released Friday is nearly identical to the department's draft documents that the CBC obtained earlier this month.
James Arreak, executive director of the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities, which supports local education authorities, says the coalition's biggest concern is how to comply with extra cleaning measures mandated in the plan.
"[The Department of Education] specifically stated that they are not providing extra funding for the extra layer of cleaning responsibilities involved in the schools in the classrooms," said Arreak.
"We're concerned about that and the apparent lack of support and commitment that involves for the DEAs to manage [the cleaning]."
All stages of the plan in which students are in class call for "enhanced cleaning," but it is up to the local education authorities to make this happen. Arreak says they've had little instruction on how to do so.
"Under these conditions, pandemic conditions, it's not something that we take lightly," said Arreak.
At the government's announcement of the back-to-school plan, Education Minister David Joanasie said custodians will be given enhanced cleaning guidelines and training.
"As of now, DEAs and CFSN [Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut] can use their current budgets to allocate funds specifically for enhanced cleaning," Joanasie said at the time.
"If there is a need for increased or additional funds, we will have to identify that and see what resources that we have financially and tap into other sources."
Baker Lake will be the first community back to school, on Aug. 7.
Arreak says the community is concerned about getting the supplies it needs, and how much it will cost.
"All the schools around the world are in this situation and we're competing for access to the same supplies that they are," said Arreak.
He's also worried about how the education authorities will communicate to parents and students about moving from one phase of the plan to the next. He also has concerns about how to keep students physically distanced in Stage 2 and Stage 3. Arreak says some schools have tight classrooms, with between 30 and 50 students.
Before the final plan was released, the Department of Education held conference calls with the coalition and local authorities about its strategy. However, Arreak says the department was "light on consulting."
"It takes time for this government to make adjustments and we respect that," said Arreak. "But at the same time, you know, we have ongoing concerns around, are we truly partners?"
Coalition already weighed in, says minister
The CBC requested an interview with Minister Joanasie, who was unavailable by the time of publishing.
In an emailed statement, he said the coalition has not communicated directly with his department to relay any further questions or concerns about the final plan since a teleconference call on July 21. He said the initial concerns expressed were addressed on the call or reflected in the final version of the plan.
"Therefore, the department is not in a position to comment," Joanasie said in the statement.
He said the department will continue to be in close contact with the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities, and other partners, as they work through the pandemic.