N.W.T. holiday policy puts onus on teachers to cover 14-day isolation

Teachers applying to leave the territory over the Christmas break need to be prepared to create two weeks of lesson plans and accept two weeks without pay. 

Travelling teachers asked to create 2 weeks of lesson plans and take 2 weeks of unpaid leave

Teachers applying to leave the territory over the Christmas break need to be prepared to create two weeks of lesson plans and accept two weeks without pay.  (François Gagnon/Radio-Canada)

In a memo sent out to teachers across the Northwest Territories last week, teachers were told they have until Friday to apply to leave the territory over the holidays.

That is, as long as they're prepared to create two weeks of extra lesson plans, accept two weeks without pay to cover the 14 days of self-isolation required when they come back and explain why they want to leave the territory. 

Matthew Miller is the head of the NWT Teachers' Association, which represents about 820 people. He said the holiday option came about after discussion between the territorial government, school divisions and superintendents. 

His priority is making sure teachers get a chance to recharge over the break, and he's not sure this is the best way to do it. 

"What we're asking them to do is to make a choice between their fiscal responsibilities and their families," Miller said. 

He's also concerned about asking teachers to explain why they're asking for leave. 

"The current policy has created now a rivalry between colleagues who are forced to compete in providing a rationale," Miller said. 

Miller said he's had emails from teachers who've lost relatives and want to grieve with their families; a teacher who wants to visit parents with dementia; and another teacher who wants to attend a sibling's wedding, scheduled at Christmas specifically because that's when the teacher expected to have time off. 

"I feel for the superintendents and principals who have to make these very tough decisions," Miller said. 

Matthew Miller is the president of the NWT Teachers' Association. Miller says the policy is making teachers choose between their fiscal responsibilities and their families. (Submitted by Angela Gzowski)

'Anxiety and stress'

The majority of teachers in the N.W.T. come from outside the territory, including about 100 who are new this year. 

Miller said he's discussed many different options for handling teacher holidays during the pandemic. One was getting an isolation exemption for teachers from the Chief Public Health Officer. Another was to have two weeks of online learning for all students while returning teachers worked from home. 

"Obviously that could put other people in a tough situation around childcare but we've done it before," Miller said. 

Miller said some superintendents have made it clear they intend to offer as many leaves as possible, which could mean competition for holidays turns out not to be a big issue.

The CBC reached one superintendent, Frank Galway of the Beaufort Delta Divisional Education Council; he declined to comment.

In a statement Tuesday, territorial government communications manager Jaimee Kępa said the Department of Education, Culture and Employment is "committed to minimizing impacts to families" over the holidays. 

She said all schools would close as scheduled and re-open in January according to the school calendar. Leave requests — and the time away from the self-isolation that follows — will be weighed against the impact on school operations.

For some teachers, getting out of the territory is more urgent this year than ever. 

Miller said teachers have been contacting his association in record numbers "due to a heightened sense of anxiety and stress." 

It's definitely not easy on anybody," he said. "It's not easy on parents either. There's a lot of difficult decisions being made.

"It's just difficult." 


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