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Yukon officials outline plans for next school year

It'll be back to class five days a week for most Yukon students this fall, but Whitehorse high school students will still be doing some learning at home.

'We're pleased to be able to be moving forward and having kids back in buildings,' says education minister

'Our goal is to return as many students as possible to class in the Yukon, in their schools, while following all health and safety guidelines,' said Yukon Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee on Thursday. (CBC)

It'll be back to class five days a week for most Yukon students this fall, but Whitehorse high school students will still be doing some learning at home.

Yukon Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee on Thursday laid out plans for the 2020-21 year at elementary and secondary schools in the territory. 

"We're pleased to be able to be moving forward and having kids back in buildings," McPhee said.

"Our goal is to return as many students as possible to class in the Yukon, in their schools, while following all health and safety guidelines."

In-class learning was suspended at all Yukon schools last March, amid concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. The rest of the school year saw students learning from home, using technology to guide their learning  and stay connected with their teachers.

Under the new plan, all Yukon students from kindergarten to Grade 9 will receive full days of in-class instruction, five days a week, once the new school year gets underway next month.

In-class learning at all Yukon schools was suspended earlier this year amid concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Older students in Whitehorse — those in Grades 10 to 12 — will only attend half-days at school, five days a week. The other half of each school day for those students will involve studying at home or somewhere else outside of the classroom.

Officials said that arrangement would be monitored during the first semester, to guide plans for the second semester. 

Grades 10 to 12 students at schools outside of Whitehorse, however, will receive full days of in-class learning. Officials said rural schools tend to have fewer students, making it easier to maintain physical distancing.

Some students in Whitehorse will also be moved to allow for safe spacing, officials said. Grade 8 students from F.H. Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse will attend classes at the Wood Street Centre, as Wood Street Centre programs move to available space at Porter Creek Secondary School and F.H. Secondary School. 

Buses will also have fewer children on board, officials said. They're encouraging families to arrange for students to walk, bike, drive or carpool to school if possible.

Detailed guidelines for school buses are expected later this month.

'A different moment'

Dr. Brendan Hanley, also speaking at Thursday's news conference with McPhee, said getting students back into class is "critical."

He said cancelling in-class learning a few months ago was the right decision at the time, but now is "a different moment."

"Keeping children out of the schools for too long, can result in long-lasting emotional and mental health effects ... many children have been living in isolation, cut off from the essential supports that are critical to their well-being."

To allow for safe spacing, some students from F.H. Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse will attend classes at the Wood Street Centre. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Hanley said Yukon officials have been watching what other jurisdictions, such as B.C., are doing, to come up with their plan. On Wednesday, B.C.'s education minister promised a detailed restart plan for that province's schools, in a few weeks.

Hanley also said Yukon officials are not recommending students wear protective face masks once they return to class. He said children are not effective transmitters of COVID-19, so masks are not seen as a priority. 

"We're not looking at mask use either for the buses or the schools, but we are emphasizing the physical measures around practical distancing," he said.

"That's not the same as necessarily a strict two metres at all times. It's what's reasonable physical spacing — based on the age, the behaviours of kids, and the learning needs of the kids." 

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