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School year begins with apprehension, reassurance

Covid-19 caused the cancellation of classes from mid-March into June, but it hasn’t stopped the resumption of schools for 2020-21.

While there are precautionary measures in place to diminish the potential hazards of the pandemic, parents like Janell Kamimmalik of Gjoa Haven can’t help but feel a little uneasy.

Pihuak Kokak and Jimmy Hikok Ilihakvik student Nicholas Oviluk read a book in Kugluktuk earlier this year. Students at Jimmy Hikok Ilihakvik reported on Aug. 12 to begin the 2020-21 school year.
photo courtesy of Naomi Tremblay

“I know I shouldn’t be worried but it’s the kids, young kids. Some kids have problems with their health and never know what (might) happen,” said Kamimmalik, who has children in kindergarten and Grade 1 and younger siblings in various grades.

She said she wishes students and teachers would wear masks.

The Department of Education, in consultation with Nunavut’s chief public health officer (CPHO), isn’t requiring children under age 13 to don masks. Students over age 13 may need to wear non-medical masks in certain situations, such as while riding a school bus, and those masks will be provided by schools.

In Naujaat, district education authority (DEA) chair Asina Angotingoar said some parents were apprehensive prior to the Department of Education’s back-to-school plan being released, but many have since been reassured that safety will be maintained.

“They were nervous first and (now) they’re settled down… they’re comfortable now,” she said.

Alan Sim, chair of the Cambridge Bay DEA, said his DEA “is happy with the direction provided by the department.”

He added that the only feedback he’s seen from parents so far has been on social media and it has been positive, which is reflected in increased attendance at the primary school.

Feedback from teachers is more difficult to obtain, at least publicly. John Fanjoy, president of the Nunavut Teachers’ Association, said his organization is withholding comment until the Department of Education forwards a summary report of DEA plans in September.

Four-stage plan

The Department of Education has devised a four-stage plan. The territory is in stage one because there are no cases of Covid-19 in Nunavut. Despite that, steps are still being taken to limit exposure to the virus, should it ever emerge in the territory. School cleaning routines have been enhanced, assemblies will be avoided, gym activities will have limited or no contact, the same groups of students will remain together as much as possible and physical distancing is being implemented.

Students are to sit at their own desks, which “must be set up with an equal space between all desks or tables to maximize the space between students without lowering the number of students in the classroom,” according to the Department of Education.

If Nunavut enters stage two or three, staggered attendance can be introduced, whereby students come to school during different times of the day or alternating days.

Educational facilities will shut down if Nunavut reaches stage four, and remote instruction for students will ensue.

In the meantime, it’s mandatory for parents to send their children to school unless they’ve registered for a formal home-schooling program under the supervision of the DEA.

Nunavut will receive $5.75 million through the federal government’s Safe Return to Class Fund announced Wednesday. The money was divided among provinces and territories based on the number of children ages 4-18 within each jurisdiction. The funds will be used to support adapted learning spaces, improved air ventilation, increased hand sanitation and hygiene and purchases of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, all made necessary by the Covid-19 pandemic.