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'Really upsetting': YK1 school board votes to close for remainder of the school year

The board of Yellowknife Education District No. 1 has voted to close schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the N.W.T.'s minister of education expected to recommend the same for all schools in the territory.

Education minister expected to recommend same for all N.W.T. schools

The Yellowknife Education District No. 1 school board will close its schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. (Donna Lee/CBC)

Some Yellowknife students are worried about what ending the school year early could mean for their academic futures, after the board of Yellowknife Education District No. 1 voted to close schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Are we going online school? Is there going to be some sort of way we can show what we can do?" asked Nathan Shereni, a Grade 12 student École Sir John Franklin High School.

"There's so many things in progress. We just don't know what's going on."

Yellowknife's largest school board passed the motion to close on Tuesday, during a special meeting.

In a newsletter, the board says it will follow future recommendations of the territory's chief public health officer, and will work in co-ordination with the territory's Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) in order to provide "whatever assistance may be necessary to support the broader effort to prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic."

The newsletter says the board is currently focused on contingency planning, staff wellness and protecting families in the community, and will make further announcements regarding lesson planning for teachers and share more information with parents later.

Nathan Shereni, a Grade 12 student at École Sir John Franklin High School, is worried about what schools closing for the rest of the year could mean for students' academic future. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

The territorial government had previously recommended schools close until after Easter Monday on April 13. All school boards complied with the recommendation.

In an email to teachers obtained by CBC News, YK1 communications advisor Mike Gibbins says that the board has a call scheduled Tuesday evening with Education Minister R.J. Simpson and other district education authority chairs across the territory.

"His recommendation will be for all other N.W.T. boards to follow suit, and they will," the email reads.

For Destiny Hobbs-Stewart, also in Grade 12 at École Sir John Franklin High School, the closure is "really upsetting."

"This could have been our last time to say goodbye to our friends and with the social distancing, now we can't even say goodbye to our friends, our teachers, that have made an impact in our life," she said. "And then with the graduation, too, being cancelled, it's just really sad."

'Now we can't even say goodbye to our friends, our teachers, that have made an impact in our life,' said Destiny Hobbs-Stewart, a Grade 12 student at École Sir John Franklin High School. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Yellowknife Education District No. 1 board chairperson Tina Drew said they are working on ways to provide support to graduating students.

"All of our students are important to us, but we want to support our Grade 12 students who are on track to graduate this year, and to be successful in getting into a third-level institution of their choice," she said.

Drew said the board is also determining ways to help students for the remainder of the school year.

"We're looking at other ways of delivering learning," she said. "Just because the schools have closed it, does not mean to say learning has completely stopped."

Teachers may volunteer in COVID-19 response: union

In an email sent out Monday to teachers and obtained by CBC, Northwest Territories Teachers' Association (NWTTA) president Fraser Oliver echoed that Simpson planned to recommend to all boards in the territory that schools be closed until the end of June.

Oliver said that in a meeting Sunday, "all superintendents, [Department of Education] and NWTTA agreed that at this point for the greater good of citizens of the N.W.T., schools should be closed until the end of the year," according to the email.

The update to union members advises staff not to focus on online lesson planning or preparing educational packages to go home with students, but instead to "look after your own families first, your colleagues, and the most vulnerable members of your school communities."

The email also noted that teachers may be asked to volunteer to help assist the territory's response to COVID-19 in the coming weeks, with tasks including assisting medical care workers, making meals, or delivering supplies.

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