Nunavik schools to reopen starting at the end of August

The school board for the Nunavik region of Quebec says students will start returning to classes on Aug. 31. Kativik Ilisarniliriniq said all incoming staff and their families will be tested for COVID-19.

Teachers begin testing, isolation for school board's phased-in plan

Puvirnituq is a village in northern Quebec with about 1,700 people. The Nunavik school board's reopening plans will be phased in over four weeks. (Google )

The school board for the Nunavik region of Quebec says students will start returning to classes on Aug. 31. 

"It's going to be gradual," said Robert Watt, president of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq. Different grades will have a staggered return to classes.

"By Sept. 14, we'll have the majority of our students attending their classes," Watt said.  

To make this happen, this Saturday teachers and staff who are currently outside of the communities will start a process of testing, travel and isolation mandated by the school board.

The process will take place over four weeks.

In a news release on Thursday, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq said all incoming staff and their families will be tested for COVID-19. They'll only be allowed to board a plane for their community if those results are negative. 

Once teachers arrive, they will isolate for 14 days with no contact with residents. They are asked to wear a mask at all times during travel and when outdoors for walks.   

Robert Watt, head of the Nunavik school board Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, says schools need more cleaning staff to reopen during COVID-19. The are no active cases in the region. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

In larger communities, up to 25 education staff could be brought in each week. In small communities, about eight staff will come to the community per week. 

"Safety measures will be in place to avoid unprotected contacts with members of the community upon arrival and transit to staff residences," the board said in the news release.

More school opening plans coming later

There are no active cases of COVID-19 in Nunavik communities as of Thursday. A case of COVID-19 was reported earlier this month in the region. That case brought Nunavik's total number of confirmed cases to 17. 

A media spokesperson for the school board said its current focus is to bring staff back to the region without introducing COVID-19 into the communities.  

A detailed plan for how the school board will react to any new cases of COVID-19 in communities will be released in the coming weeks, the spokesperson said. 

The board said all school staff will wear masks indoors. It is mandatory in Quebec to wear a mask in public spaces. 

For students, mask wearing and physical distancing in schools will depend on the community, based on age, school size and the ways each community is choosing to implement public health directives, Watt said. 

Education committees will need to be prepared to help communities make decisions about how to keep students safe, and to act as mediators for the education board, Watt said. 

"We're going to have to come up with innovative ways to ensure that the children are receiving education and that they're not lagging behind," he said.  

There are currently 12 positions vacant for teachers. Last year, 84 teacher positions were vacant in early August. The board expects positions to be filled by the time schools reopen. 

Schools need more janitors 

Some schools still don't have cleaning staff, and those schools won't reopen unless the positions are filled, said Watt.

"If the school is not clean enough, we're going to have no choice but to close it down," he said. "This is going to be a big challenge to ensure that we do have janitors in our 17 schools."

Director general of the school board Harriet Keleutak said it's "dangerous" not to have cleaning staff. 

The school board said filling the cleaning positions in schools is an ongoing challenge every year for its schools. 

With files from John Eetuk


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