Whitehorse high school students to remain on modified schedule for rest of school year

Grade 10 to 12 high school students in Whitehorse will remain on a modified schedule for the remainder of the school year, Yukon's education minister said Tuesday.

Masks will soon be mandatory for common spaces in schools

Yukon Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee speaks at a news conference in Whitehorse in August. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Grade 10 to 12 high school students in Whitehorse will remain on a modified schedule for the remainder of the school year, Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said Tuesday.

"It has become clear that under the current health and safety guidelines, we do not have the adequate spacing or staff resources to accommodate a full time return to class for Grades 10 to 12 students here in Whitehorse," McPhee said during a weekly update on COVID-19 in the territory. She spoke alongside Yukon's chief medical officer. 

Under current guidelines, the territory would need to establish several satellite high schools and hire between 35 and 60 additional staff.

"The additional qualified staff to return these students to full-time under the current health and safety guidelines are simply not available," McPhee said.

Mandatory masks

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said officials are in the process of updating the health and safety guidelines for all K-12 students in the territory.

He said masks will soon be required in common areas of schools, including hallways, cafeterias, libraries and corridors, along with physical distancing of one metre within the classroom between students.

"We need to keep reminding ourselves that our focus is centered on maintaining the health and safety of students, teachers and the broader community," Hanley said.

"It's hard to predict the future. The next few months could change and we may need to adjust once again.

"But we have been working closely with the Department of Education to ensure that all students and teachers are given the support they need as we continue to navigate these unfamiliar waters."

MAD program to move back to Wood Street Centre

McPhee also announced the Music, Arts and Drama (MAD) program can move back to the Wood Street Centre as soon as possible and for the remainder of the school year. 

The MAD program is an experiential learning program that provides Grade 9 and 10 students with an alternative to the regular school curriculum.

She said Grade 8 students from F.H. Collins Secondary, who moved to the Wood Street Centre, will not be affected.

The Education minister also said three additional school busses the territory ordered have arrived. She said the pandemic has led to a reduced capacity on buses, leading to some challenges for families in and around Whitehorse. Additional drivers have been hired, and as soon as the busses are certified, she said they'll be on the road.

Travel to B.C. cautioned 

Hanley cautioned Yukon residents who may be planning a trip to B.C. The province imposed a new set of sweeping restrictions for two weeks for the Metro Vancouver health regions. Residents there are being told not to engage in social interactions outside their immediate households.

"Travelling to the Vancouver area will require extra caution," Hanley said. "If you are planning to attend a gathering, a wedding or a funeral in B.C., I ask that you rethink your visit."

At this time, he said Yukon will not be changing its bubble with B.C. but is continue to monitor the situation.

News conferences related to the pandemic that aren't pre-scheduled are expected to be more rare moving forward.

Last week, Hanley announced the territorial government would be changing its reporting on new COVID-19 cases.

Rather than relying on a news release or a news conference following a new confirmed case of COVID-19, Hanley said people should check the territorial government's website, unless there is a notice of "particular importance."

Last week, officials stressed the importance of following self-isolation protocols, after announcing the territorial government had laid two new charges for failure to do so. 

This comes after the territory's first COVID-19-related death was announced late last month.

As of Tuesday morning, the territorial government's website says there are 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory, with 22 of those people recovered.