Photo by Whitehorse Star
NDP Leader Kate White
Photo by Whitehorse Star
NDP Leader Kate White
The Department of Education has told Yukon parents it will no longer inform them of COVID-19 exposures in the schools.
The Star has obtained a letter to parents from assistant deputy minister Ryan Sikkes.
“With the introduction of rapid antigens tests as well as the current number of active COVID-19 cases currently in Yukon, Yukon Communicable Disease Control will be making changes to how they conduct their case follow-up activities,” Sikkes wrote.
“In the context of schools, this means a shift to school-based surveillance and away from individual case and contact management.
“In the coming days, YCDC will decrease the amount of case and contact management work that is done for the schools and will no longer be issuing school exposure notifications.”
Parents were emailed the announcement about the major policy change on Wednesday evening.
That day, Dr. Catherine Elliott, the acting chief medical officer of health, and Tracy-Anne McPhee, the minister of Health and Social Services, presided at the weekly COVID-19 briefing. Neither mentioned the planned elimination of school exposure alerts.
The Star requested elaboration on the decision from the government. No response was provided.
Ted Hupé, the president of the Yukon Association of Education Professionals, told the Star early this afternoon he spoke to Nicole Morgan, the deputy minister of Education, about the decision Thursday.
Hupé said the decision and lack of communication shocked him, his membership and parents.
It’s a complete departure from the approach of the last two years, which saw government and public health officials focused intensely on tracking and managing virus numbers and cases, he noted.
Hupé said he understands the decision, after a fashion. Public officials are overwhelmed and can’t keep up with case numbers anymore, so a new approach was needed.
However, Hupé said the only way he can see the situation working for schools in the territory is for the Department of Education to give principals the power to make-on-fly decision to keep their schools open or to switch to online learning – or even close them if the number of absent staff and students is high enough.
“This puts us in a real bind,” Hupé said. “All of this is landing on the principals. We’re in a pickle if we don’t have a timely response. COVID anxiety is very high among teachers and parents.”
He said Morgan agreed that is a worthwhile idea – but he has his doubts as to whether the department would go for the idea.
Hupé said it has a long tradition of keeping close control of schools rather than embracing any independence for them, and that’s not likely to change.
“We have to be able to react nimbly and quickly,” he said.
In his letter, Sikkes went on to refer to the new rapid tests being made available to the general public by the government.
“If a student or staff member receives a positive result from an at-home test, continue to self-isolate for the appropriate number of days provided in the rapid test instructions, and follow the directions provided on the management of household contacts,” he wrote.
“There is no need to report the result to Yukon Communicable Disease Control (CDC). Students and staff who test positive to COVID-19 are not required to notify the school or others at school of their positive result.
“To protect personal privacy, schools also cannot release individual contact information for the purpose of an individual (staff, student or parent/guardian) seeking to notify others of their test result.”
Yukon schools, Sikkes added, “remain low-risk settings because they are controlled settings and have Operational Plans for Communicable Disease which follow the chief medical officer of health’s K-12 school guidelines for 2021-22: COVID-19.”
Sikkes added that “if you are contacting your school to notify them of your absence and that you require support with remote learning, you can let the school know that your absence is due to illness and if you choose you may indicate it is due to a positive COVID-19 test.
“While most of our schools have transitioned back to in-person learning, some are pivoting to remote learning based on how many staff are available.
“We expect other schools to shift to remote learning for short periods due to similar circumstances. To help keep families updated, we have added a daily snapshot of which schools are remote learning to our webpage on school operations in the 2021-22 school year: COVID-19.”
The government’s policy change – and the method of communicating it – aren’t sitting well with the opposition parties.
“Amidst mass community spread and the worst outbreak the Yukon has seen to date, the government has decided it has had enough of exposure notices in schools,” the NDP stated in a news release this morning.
“In an email sent to parents on Wednesday evening, the Department of Education stated that: ‘In the coming days, YCDC will decrease the amount of case and contact management work that is done for the schools and will no longer be issuing school exposure notifications.’”
“This is a big change in policy direction and should have been communicated at the Wednesday press conference,” said NDP Leader Kate White.
“People are watching case counts explode, and they are worried. If there are changes being made in the approach to schools, the government needs to be up front about that.”
The NDP said it was not consulted about the change by the Liberals, whose government it’s propping up in the legislature.
White went on to say, “At a time when the CMOH (Elliott) is expecting to see more hospitalizations in the days to come, teachers, parents and school councils have been looking to the government to not only protect their children, but their communities and elders as well.
“With these changes, school administrators, educators and families can no longer make informed decisions about attendance in school or virtual learning.
“If this is the advice of the chief medical officer, then the government needs to be shouting it from the roof tops to inform the school communities,” said the NDP leader.
“Parents are trying to make the right decision for their kids and the government is making that difficult.
“These late-night emails continue to leave parents scrambling for options and piling on the stress.”
The Yukon Party also isn’t a fan of the announcement.
“This issue once again demonstrates the communication failures coming from the Liberal government regarding COVID-related information,” party representatives said in an email late this morning.
“The Education department and school system needs leadership at this time and it is noticeably absent.
“The Yukon Party reiterates Copperbelt South MLA Scott Kent’s call last week for the Education minister (Jeanie McLean) to show leadership and start providing updates and assurances to Yukoners about what is happening in our schools,” the party said.
“Any information provided about COVID in schools is useful for parents, and the government needs to explain why they would drop this useful tool to inform parents about the status of COVID at their child’s school.”
Some provinces have also opted to scrap school exposure alerts in favour of monitoring students and staff attendance rates.
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