North

N.W.T. schools to remain closed for remainder of academic year

Education leaders have decided to keep schools closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year, because of "the many complex operational challenges faced by schools at this time."

Education leaders to keep schools closed due to the challenges reopening presents

École Allain St-Cyr is one of two French schools in the N.W.T. The territory's education leaders have decided as a group to keep schools closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Schools in the Northwest Territories will stay closed for the remainder of the school year.

In a news release Thursday, education leaders say they are acting as a group to keep schools closed, because "circumstances vary greatly across communities and regions in terms of capacity to reopen schools at this time."

They've decided to keep schools closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year, because of "the many complex operational challenges faced by schools at this time."

Those challenges include teachers who are currently away from many communities, concerns from local governments, and a shortage of equipment needed to maintain safety according to public health recommendations, reads the press release.

This week Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory's chief public health officer, said elementary, middle and high schools could reopen after the first set of COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, which could happen as soon as Friday. In March, schools in the N.W.T. were recommended to close as a preventative measure against COVID-19.

News that schools would be allowed to reopen this spring took some school boards and the NWT Teachers' Association, the union that represents the territory's teachers, by surprise.

School boards focused on planning for fall

"As school boards, we have heard the recommendation that schools can reopen. Together, we have analyzed our capacity to do so and have determined that for the safety of our staff and students, we will not," Simon Cloutier, chair of the Commission scolaire francophone des Territoires du Nord-Ouest, says in the news release, on behalf of N.W.T. education leaders.

"Taking the necessary time to plan for a well-thought-out re-entry in the fall is our priority. That being said, we will continue to support our students via our continuity of learning plans until the end of June."

The news release says most schools reported they likely wouldn't be able to implement the "rigorous risk management plans" necessary to reopen before the summer break.

Education leaders have agreed to use new advice from the chief public health officer to inform their plans for the 2020-2021 school year, reads the release.

Taking the necessary time to plan for a well-thought-out re-entry in the fall is our priority.- Simon Cloutier, chair of the Commission scolaire francophone de Territoroires du Nord-Ouest

"I am encouraged by the recent recommendations of the N.W.T. chief public health officer regarding the safe operation of schools during the time of COVID-19," says R.J. Simpson, the minister of education, culture and employment, in the press release. 

"I understand the many challenges faced by our education bodies across the territory, and support their unified decision to focus efforts on planning for the fall while supporting continued learning for all N.W.T. students for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year."

"I know it was a rough day for a lot of people," Simpson acknowledged in an interview with the CBC, "and a lot of people were taken by surprise, but in the end, I think everything worked out."

Simpson said the Education Department, school boards and the NWT Teachers' Association are working together on plans for the upcoming school year, "which is really the focus now."

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