Most Yellowknife students will be back in class this fall after school boards' plans approved

Three major school boards in Yellowknife say their back-to-school reopening plan for fall has been approved by the N.W.T.'s Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.

School-specific plans will be sent to families in the next week

The Yellowknife Education District No. 1 office, also known as the YK1 school board, in downtown Yellowknife. Three boards in the city have said their plans are approved and will proceed with mostly in-person learning for students this fall. (Donna Lee/CBC)

Yellowknife students are on track to go back to school in person this fall, as the city's major school boards say their reopening plans were approved by the N.W.T.'s Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.

In letters dated Tuesday to families, Yellowknife Catholic Schools, Commission scolaire francophone Territoires du Nord-Ouest (CSFTNO), and Yellowknife District Education No. 1 (YK1) state their reopening plans have been approved and that they will submit school-specific plans to families in the following week. 

Yellowknife Catholic Schools says each principal will share their specific school plans by Aug. 20; YK1 says its schools will share specific plans by Friday. CSFTNO, which has a school in Yellowknife and in Hay River, said it will share its plans by Aug. 17.

All boards say they have "every intention" of starting in-person schooling on Aug. 31.

Earlier this summer, the N.W.T. government required all school boards in the territory to submit risk assessment plans for the 2020-21 school year.

Some of these decisions might not be popular.- Shirley Zouboules, YK1 incoming assistant superintendent

In July, the territorial government released information on what that reopening will look like, including daily COVID-19 screening for students and staff, masks when bussing, no assemblies, staggered recess periods and spacing of desks and other furniture.

These general measures are reiterated in the letters from the school boards, with additional details.

Most grades to be in-class all day

For Yellowknife Catholic Schools, students who are junior kindergarten to Grade 9, and Grade 12, will have full-time, in-class learning. Its Grade 10 and 11 students will have "blended learning" — half of their days from home, and half in school.

For CSFTNO and YK1, all its students from junior kindergarten to Grade 12 will have full-time, in-class learning "as much as possible."

The boards talk about classroom "bubbles" and specific physical distancing measures that range from none to two metres, depending on the grade level. 

For example, CSFTNO and YK1's Junior kindergarten to Grade 6 students won't have to physically distance in their classrooms; the catholic board says no physical distancing is required for its junior kindergarten to Grade 7 students. 

Generally, there will be more signs and hand sanitizing and cleaning stations. Some staff and teachers will have to wear face shields, depending on the grade. Some grades will also see physical barriers like plexiglass where deemed necessary, among other measures.

"Recommendations from the [chief public health office] are largely based on a person's age," states the catholic school board's letter. "Young children are seen to be at the lowest risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19." 

School boards say they will be flexible with their class formats, flowing from in-person to blended to at-home "at a moment's notice, as the pandemic dictates."

Circumstances that could affect class formats could be if multiple teachers are sick, a possible outbreak at a school, or if the territory's rules become more strict, according to the letters.

'A wild ride': assistant superintendent

Shirley Zouboules, the incoming assistant YK1 superintendent, says "it has been a wild ride" this past year. 

Zouboules said she wants families to know that her board is putting safety at the heart of all its decisions.

"It's important that [families] know that we have their kiddos at the very heart of everything that we're doing. Teachers are just anxious to get the kids back and working with them,' Zouboules said.

Zouboules said the board is making "little tweaks" daily regarding what it's being asked to include in its planning.

She thanked families for their patience during the pandemic and asked for some more starting Aug. 31.

"When that first day arrives, we all need to be patient, we all need to breathe and do the best we can," she said. "Some of these decisions might not be popular, however we're doing them in the very best interest of the kids, with the information that we have."

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With files from Juanita Taylor


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