Most schools to continue online learning as N.W.T. navigates Omicron wave

Schools in the Beaufort Delta (except Aklavik) will reopen to in-person learning on Monday, while online learning stays in place for most N.W.T. communities affected by a rise of COVID-19 cases.

Some schools in the Beaufort Delta are returning to in-person learning Monday

William McDonald Middle School in Yellowknife, which remains in online learning during the latest outbreak of COVID-19. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

School closures continue in the Northwest Territories amid a wave of Omicron cases rapidly spreading in communities, but some schools in the Beaufort Delta are back to in-person learning on Monday. 

At the beginning of January, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer recommended schools in Aklavik, Behchokǫ̀, Fort Providence, Hay River, Katlodeeche First Nation, Whatì, Yellowknife, Ndilǫ and Dettah move to remote learning.

As of Friday evening, the Beaufort Delta had 117 cases, the Dehcho (53), Fort Smith (47), Hay River (55), Sahtu (72), Tłı̨chǫ (243) and Yellowknife (749). 

All five schools in the Sahtu remain closed, including Colville Lake School, Ehtseo Ayha School in Délı̨nę, Chief T'Selehye, Mackenzie Mountain School and Chief Albert Wright School, the Sahtu Divisional Education Council said in an email Friday. 

In Fort Providence, where there were 42 cases on Friday, online learning continues until Jan. 24. 

The Deninu School in Fort Resolution also remains in online learning.

The school shared in an online update that staff are waiting on a limited number of portable WiFi sticks to be distributed based on need — with upper grades being prioritized.

Laptops are also available to students in grades eight to 12 based on need and upon request. 

A letter from the Dehcho Divisional Education Council states that 13 staff were "out of commission" and that in-person learning would not be possible in Fort Simpson until at least Jan. 24. 

In-person learning will not be offered in Lutselk'e until at least Jan. 24, the school posted in a Facebook update.

Some Beaufort Delta schools return to in-person learning

East Three Secondary School Grade 8 class working on career planning. Schools in Inuvik are return to in-person learning on Monday. (Devin Roberts)

Some schools in the Beaufort Delta are opening on Jan. 17. 

But schools in Aklavik and Fort McPherson, won't resume in-person learning until at least Jan. 24.

The Chief Julius School in Fort McPherson was initially scheduled to reopen Monday, but the Beaufort Delta Divisional Education Council announced on Facebook on Jan. 15 the closure would be extended another week. 

As of Friday in the Beaufort Delta, the bulk of cases are in Aklavik (56) and Inuvik (39). There are cases in Fort McPherson (8), Tsiigehtchic (8) and Tuktoyaktuk (7).

Devin Roberts, superintendent of the Beaufort Delta Divisional Education Council, told CBC on Jan. 14 the continued closure in Aklavik is based on the chief public health officer's recommendations. 

"We get regular updates from health.… We work with our district education authority and councils and pass closing schools," said Roberts. 

Roberts said the COVID-19 situation has allowed the education authority to rapidly upgrade its technology in the last six months, providing laptops and devices to all 1,509 students in the district.

The Gwich'in Tribal Council provided the council with $103,200 to help buy laptops for Gwich'in students in Grade 10 and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation contributed $130,000 toward laptops for Inuvialuit students in Grade 10.

In Inuvik, Roberts said, Tom Zubko at New North Networks helps provide internet to families with students in Inuvik 

"We have enough devices for all the kids in the district," he said.

School supports 'difficult to replicate' in online learning

A spokesperson for the N.W.T.'s education department said in an email each education body decides how long their schools will be closed, and that the chief public health officer's advice weighs into these decisions. 

The department is providing Turbo sticks and Chromebooks for online learning if requested. 

The department said schools "provide benefits that are difficult to replicate at home."

"These include important things like social development, support for complex needs, access to healthy food, learning through peer interaction, and the belonging and safety that schools provide for many children and youth," the department spokesperson wrote. 

YK1: Returning to school on Jan. 24 'hopefully'

A bulletin from the YK1 Board states that remote learning will continue until Jan. 21, while schools remain closed due to the current COVID-19 outbreak. 

The board posted expectations for parents and students given the shift to online learning.

A Jan. 14 letter to parents of École William McDonald Middle School lists "January 24th (hopefully)" as the date for return to in-person learning. 

"The first week has been relatively smooth and there appears to be greater engagement in all classes than the previous remote learning period." 

Because teachers were given three days to prepare for remote learning, there will be opportunities for students to complete work independently, including Jan. 21, where there is no direct instruction, the letter states.

If remote learning is extended, the school will revisit the program structure for language and immersion programming.

All Tłı̨chǫ schools stay online

The chief public health officer recommended the closure of all Tłı̨chǫ schools from Jan. 10 to Jan. 21. 

As of Friday, there were 84 cases in Behchokǫ̀ and 57 cases in Whatì.

Chief Jimmy Bruneau School in Behchokǫ̀ will remain closed until at least Jan. 21.

The Mezi School in Whatì had teachers contact families and reactivated Turbo sticks for internet.

If parents returned technology, they should advise their child's teacher, states a post to the school's Facebook page. 

For students who need tutoring, Northern Youth Abroad offers sessions and drop-in tutoring

The Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency reminds students that child and youth counselling is available, and listed phone numbers on their Facebook page.