The Department of Education is anticipating that it will, by the end of July, publicly release its plans to reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year.
First, the department will consult with the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities, other community DEAs and the Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut to get their feedback, Education Minister David Joanasie stated in a July 8 letter in response to critical correspondence from Iqaluit DEA chair Doug Workman on July 2.
The CNDEA expressed its support for Workman’s stance on behalf of the Iqaluit DEA.
“Our chair (Jedidah Merkosak) has sent similar correspondence related to failed communications by the department involving decisions made around school closures and changes to school season and how these one-sided decisions have led to the breakdown in our partnership arrangements,” stated James Arreak, executive director of the CNDEA.
However, the Department of Education noted that several teleconferences have taken place involving the DEAs over the past couple of months.
Joanasie emphasized that department staff have spent the past few months planning for various scenarios and they have been working very closely with the chief public health officer to ensure school reopening plans “align with current public health orders and guidelines.” Among the issues being reviewed are heightened cleaning efforts, social distancing, staggered schedules, food programs, curriculum to be covered and transportation for students.
The education minister acknowledged the importance of in-class learning, wherever possible. However, in a separate letter in reply to a concerned Iqaluit parent, Joanasie covered some of the implications if home-based learning remains fully or partially necessary.
“Unlike in the spring, instruction will continue if schools close in the 2020-21 school year. The instruction will be adapted for each student based on their school community and home situation,” Joanasie informed the parent. “Staff have discussed many of the key issues you raise in your letter, including the need to fairly and accurately assess and evaluate students if we return to at-home learning, the need for individually focused instruction and learning packages to better engage our students, and approaches to online learning.”
Nunavut’s schools closed on March 16 due to Covid-19. School staff were provided guidelines and learning packages for families so they could commence home-based education, although there was no marking or evaluating how well students grasped those lessons. In retrospect, Joanasie acknowledged that his department fell short in some areas.
“As you note, this was a chaotic time for all of us. We recognize that a lot of pressure was placed on parents and guardians to support their children’s learning, and I agree that my department could have done better in communicating expectations and providing support,” he wrote to the Iqaluit parent. “Particularly, there could have been more communication directly from the department rather than reliance on each individual school and educator.”