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Don’t reopen Nunavut schools, union president recommends

Nunavut Employees Union President William Fennell has added his voice to the chorus of opposition to reopening Nunavut’s educational facilities.

“People are afraid,” says William Fennell, president of the Nunavut Employees Union, in regards to the potential for schools to reopen in Nunavut.
photo courtesy of the Nunavut Employees Union

Territorial schools closed on March 17 due to the risk posed by Covid-19 and Fennell wants it to stay that way until September.

“I think the NTA (Nunavut Teachers Association) is correct in saying it’s too early,” he said, adding that he’s been hearing concerns from NEU members who work in the education system, people like secretaries, student support assistants and school-community counsellors and janitors. Some of them are in personal relationships with teachers, he noted.

“People are afraid,” said Fennell, adding that many Nunavummiut share their homes with elders, who are particularly vulnerable to the illness.

Education Minister David Joanasie said earlier this month that the GN would rely on a recommendation from the chief public health officer as to whether to reopen schools. That decision is expected to be made by Tuesday, the same day all teachers are due to return to work to prepare lessons for students.

With the potential for close to 90 educators from the south to fly back to Nunavut after self-isolating, Fennell cited asymptomatic individuals who are infected with the virus as one of his primary concerns.

“I certainly think for our members’ sake and for the public in general we need to maintain the course, stay the course for now. From the federal government, that’s certainly the messaging,” he said.

Fennell’s comments come on the heels of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities calling upon the GN not to order teachers back to the territory and to keep Nunavut schools closed until the fall.

As well, more than 3,200 signatures have been gathered as part of an online petition through that calls upon government leaders to stop teachers from flying back to Nunavut from the south, regardless of self-isolation centres set up in southern cities.

Outside of the possible reopening of schools, Fennell complimented territorial government leaders for their handling of the coronavirus crisis. He said they’ve gone “above and beyond” in accommodating employees, many of whom have been able to work from home.

“They’re doing the right things, and I’d hate to see them mar it by opening the schools,” he said.