Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
The deputy minister of Education is confident officials have the right safety strategy in place to ensure they can keep the schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nicole Morgan pointed out during a press conference Friday the department is entering its third year of the pandemic and has experience dealing with COVID-19 and methods to keep students and staff safe.
Dr. Catherine Elliott, the acting chief medical officer of health who also took part in the news conference, has provided guidance to help keep the schools open, she said.
The Education department, she added, is working with the First Nation governments.
Morgan said it’s important students receive the support they need, and ensuring access to in-class learning is among the primary supports the department can provide.
“Our priority we have is that in-class learning continues,” she said.
“We are working to make sure students have access to the supports they need to continue learning.”
“We will keep as many students in schools as safely possible, based on recommendations from the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) and advice of the Yukon Communicable Disease Control Center (YCDC),” says an 11-page letter sent from the department to parents.
“Should there be an increased risk of transmission, increased cases or a community outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Yukon schools will adapt operations as necessary, based on the following contingency scenarios and the specific context of the school and community.”
Morgan said there is always the option of returning a school to remote learning, but remote learning is less than ideal.
These are challenging times, and the new Omicron variant has added a new dimension to the challenge, she said.
Nonetheless, said Morgan, they remain confident they can deliver in-class learning safely.
She said the department has ensured the ventilation systems and their filters are being maintained to provide maximum benefit.
Where there is a request to close a school, the department will have to work closely wth the school to understand why, she said.
“Is there an operational need for the school to be closed?” she said. “It is really important to identify why the school is shifting to remote learning.
“It will help us to identify how long we will be moving to remote learning.”
Morgan said they’ve also been in discussions with teachers on call to understand some of their concerns.
The department had to bring on 13 additional teaching staff last month, she said.
Morgan said the COVID-19 landscape is changing very quickly.
The department used rapid testing in November in some communities to identify as many cases as it could, she said.
Morgan said the Yukon’s relatively small size presents a benefit in that it can be very nimble in responding to situations.
It is important the Department of Education remain nimble, and is prepared to provide school closures, she said.
Morgan said they did use remote learning in some cases following a request from the Ross River School.
The department agreed, and used what it’s learned over the course of the pandemic to address Ross River’s concern, she said.
Elliott said she is confident in-class learning can be done safely, but emphasized there are the necessary tools in place to address an outbreak if one occurs.
The standard protocols – wearing masks, washing hands, staying home when you feel unwell or are running a fever – remain among the primary tools to combat COVID, she said.
If Yukoners feel unwell, she said, they need to stay home, and if symptoms worsen, they should then get tested.
Morgan said she is confident in-class learning can be done safely because the operational plans for each school are already in place to keep staff and students safe.
As of Friday, there were 329 active COVID cases and 41 new cases.
Records show 1,793 cases have recovered.
Weekend data were unavailable from the government before press time this afternoon.
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