JK-12 schooling during the pandemic

The Northwest Territories (NWT) Public Health Emergency and all public health orders end on March 31, 2022 at 11:59 pm.

After April 1, schools and education bodies will begin to make operational decisions based on the COVID-19 situation in their communities and take appropriate risk mitigation measures.

There are also shifts in masking protocols and how schools and school boards will make decisions about acceptable activities or precautions they should consider to protect staff and students from COVID-19 infections. Details on these important changes are included in the sections below.

Masks

Masking in the classroom will no longer be required for staff (teachers, assistants) or students. It’s recommended that anyone visiting a classroom from outside should wear a mask.

If people choose to continue wearing masks in classrooms, that is entirely acceptable and their own personal choice.

Masking outside of classrooms, in communal areas of schools and school buses, will remain in place for the time being.

While cloth masks are acceptable, staff and students are encouraged to wear disposable, 3-ply masks when possible.

In those instances where a child may not be able to tolerate a mask for prolonged periods of time, parents are encouraged to contact their child’s school to discuss the options available based on their child’s specific needs.

The Public Health Agency of Canada provides advice for masking in community settings that you may wish to review: COVID-19 mask use: Advice for community settings - Canada.ca (link is external)

‘Traffic Light’ Model

After April 1, schools and education bodies will begin to make operational decisions based on the COVID-19 situation in their communities and take appropriate risk mitigation measures. They will base these decisions on a colour-coded “traffic light” model. This will be posted on the COVID-19 dashboard weekly.

Schools and education bodies will use this information to make decisions about mitigating risk to best protect staff and students. That means precautions and activities may vary between schools in different communities, depending on the colour risk of the community.

When there is known community transmission in a community it will categorized as ‘red,’ and the following will not be recommended:

  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Allowing visitors in schools/classrooms
  • Holding events
  • In-servicing, professional development activities and staff meetings

The following will be recommended if the community is categorized as red.

  • Physical distancing in schools and classrooms
  • Bubbling in classrooms, peer groups

Additionally, multi-community sports tournaments or events are not recommended if any participating community is at a red risk level. 

Availability of Vaccine Program

At this time, all children ages five and older are eligible for the vaccine and second doses are now available for those who received their first dose seven to eight weeks ago. The vaccine continues to be the safest protection from COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness if a breakthrough infection occurs.

Infection prevention and control

Schools will continue to:

  • Teach, supervise, and enforce strong healthy respiratory practices and hand washing.
  • Ensure regular hand washing and access to hand sanitizer for all staff and students.
  • Enhance custodial services and regular cleaning schedules to a minimum of twice daily.
  • Safe delivery of lunch or food programs and water.
  • Maintain space and protocols for isolation rooms should students develop symptoms.

Serving communal food is not recommended: individual boxes should be used over serving individuals from communal or shared serving trays. General food guidelines include:

  • People who feel sick should not be involved in food preparation or service.
  • Ensure proper cleaning after each use of shared food containers from dining areas.
  • Encourage eating outdoors.
  • Prioritize single serve food items and dispense them to individuals directly.

Screening for symptoms

Students and staff should continue to use the Daily Symptom Screening Tool for Students, School Staff and Early Childhood Care Workers.

If students or school staff are sick, stay home.

Each school has a dedicated isolation room where a student can safely isolate if they begin to show symptoms of COVID-19 while at school. The student will be accompanied by a staff member and will be kept safe during this time. The parents or guardians of a student with symptoms will be notified immediately of their child’s status and asked to pick them up from school as soon as possible. 

Public Health Notes

Public Health does not provide COVID-19 assessment cards, isolation notes or sick notes for returning to school and/or exam exemptions. If you are unable to take an exam due to isolation requirements, please speak with a representative at your school.

AATs and Diploma Exams

Alberta Achievement Tests and Diploma Exams will be administered with accommodations for the 2021-2022 school year. April and June 2022 diploma exams will proceed as scheduled.

Remote Learning and Home Schooling

If a student cannot safely attend school for health reasons, temporary isolation requirements, or as a result of any other direction from Public Health or a Public Health Official, learning supports will be provided by their school.

Educators are not resourced to provide both remote learning and in-person learning at the same time. Their time in the classroom requires their full attention and supervision. If parents of healthy students decide to keep their children at home, they will need to take on that responsibility.

Further to this, if parents do not intend for their children to return to school, they will need to take on the responsibilities of home schooling, as per the Home Schooling Directive, which is a longer-term commitment. 

Additional information for parents/guardians interested in Home Schooling

Parents or guardians in the NWT have the right to home school their children. Parents or guardians who are interested in registering their children for home schooling must formally meet with the school and submit a learning plan for each child at the time of registration. Once the learning plan is approved and the children are enrolled, the parent or guardian then takes on the responsibility for teaching their children. For clarity, once a learning plan is approved, it is expected that the program be carried to completion over the course of the semester or school year, as applicable. Home schooling parents will not have access to a teacher at the school to provide support.

Contact your local education body for specific information about its home schooling process and how to register. Parents or guardians may be entitled to reimbursement for eligible expenses in accordance with the education body policy in their region.

Counselling and Wellness Supports

Students with underlying health conditions

There may be students who are unable to safely attend school for health reasons. These students will be supported to learn from home through remote learning. Each special circumstance should be evaluated by a health-care practitioner, on a case-by-case basis, to determine whether it is safe to attend school.

If parents or guardians have concerns, they should:

  • Consult their child's health-care practitioner to determine whether it is medically safe for their child to return to school. 
  • Contact your child’s school to discuss available options and support, if it is not safe to return to school.

Counselling services

For students

Many students may be experiencing anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents and guardians can support their child(ren)’s mental health by taking time to listen to and validate their concerns and feelings, and by having conversations around how they feel, especially about changes caused by the pandemic.

Mental wellness counselling services will continue to be available to students either in-person or through virtual care technology and telephone services. All students are eligible to access counselling services. Virtual workshops and resources for education staff are available and contact information for counselling support is available through NWT schools.

  • Child and Youth Care Counsellors are available through schools.
  • BreathingRoom is a newly launched e-mental health program for youth aged 13-24. It supports youth and young adults in learning new ways to manage stress, depression and anxiety, as well as strengthening their existing coping skills. NWT youth can access this program at https://app.breathingroom.me/register?code=XXQTGPUE(link is external)
  • NWT Help Line – available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is 100% free, confidential and anonymous. Call 1-800-661-0844.
  • Kid’s Help Phone – young people needing to talk to someone can call the Kid’s Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or go to www.kidshelpphone.ca(link is external)
  • The NWT Community Counselling Program – is available free-of-charge to every NWT resident, in every region of the NWT. It helps people deal with a variety of issues, including family violence, mental health issues and addictions.
For staff

The Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP) is a confidential, voluntary counselling and referral service available to GNWT employees and their dependants. The program is designed to help with personal or work-related issues before they become more serious.

Additional supports are available through Starling Minds, a digital Cognitive Behavioural Therapy platform that is available to all education staff. It provides comprehensive mental health support to increase mental fitness, develop a return to health program and prevent and reduce stressors.  Staff can contact the NWT Teachers’ Association for more information and for their account logins.

Lifespeak is a digital total wellbeing platform that is available to all GNWT employees and their families. It provides confidential access to expert information and videos on a wide range of topics. GNWT staff can get more information from the COVID-19 section of the My HR website