The imminent reopening of schools in Kanesatake expected to take place on September 1 is leading to the implementation of a safe return to school plan.
As the anticipated day draws nearer, the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake (MCK) and the Kanesatake Education Center are doubling down on the work to finalize the plan, which will be revealed to staff, parents and students in upcoming days.
“All the measures that were in place before to protect our children, including the masks, sanitizing, and plexiglass – they will all still be mandatory,” noted new Council chief Denise David, who holds the lead on the education portfolio at the MCK.
While some details are still being hashed out, the chief confirmed kindergarten to secondary five students attending the Rotiwennakehte/Aronhiatekha School could look forward to a full-time return to the classroom.
“I know there are concerns with parents who feel kids should not be going back full-time,” said David, adding that some parents have instead requested for either a hybrid or complete online model to be adopted.
“I’m listening to what parents and kids are saying right now, so we will try this plan out and if we need to, we will go back and try something different,” she continued.
As a mother of three, including one 10-year-old daughter at Rotiwennakehte, community member Karen Conway expressed she was happy with the preemptive plan.
“I like that we don’t have many kids going to the school, it gives some relief sending the little ones in – especially since they can’t be vaccinated,” said Conway. “I wouldn’t want to send my daughter to a bigger school.”
While youth in kindergarten, elementary and high school push for a complete return to the classroom, children frequenting the local Tsi Rontswa’ta:khwa Daycare will be following a half-day schedule, which ends at 11:15 a.m.
David explained that the decision to enforce different in-person schedules for separate age groups was the result of consultation with educators at both institutions.
“I want to get the input from all sources involved,” said the chief. “Because they’re the ones teaching our students and they’re the ones in the school with them.”
A recent outbreak in Kanesatake shook up the community as it saw cases surge to a peak of 17 active cases, including two non-local individuals working in the community and one case identified at the Tsi Rontswa’ta:khwa Daycare.
Since Monday, cases have dropped down to a reassuring zero.
Notwithstanding the active case count in Kanesatake, there are measures being planned that will apply to all staff and students in the community. These include mask-wearing indoors, temperature taking before entering the school bus, and again at the school entrance, along with the use of the bubble systems in classrooms.
Additional measures such as frequent hand washing, sanitizing of the space and symptom monitoring will also be carried out in both facilities.
Although the Kanesatake Health Center Planning and Response Unit wasn’t directly involved in the drafting of the return to school plan, spokesperson Robert Bonspiel confirmed that the centre continues to advise MCK on all COVID-19 safety related matters.
“Ultimately what we do is try to give MCK all the tools to make a clear decision based on the facts,” said Bonspiel.
The spokesperson emphasized that in addition to considering regional public health protocols, the Health Center also factors in how provincial and federal governments are handling the ongoing health crisis.
The rise in cases across the province have been an increasing cause for concern as schools reopen and children under 12 years of age remain ineligible to receive the vaccine.
This is a worry David expressed is very real with Kanehsata’kehró:non.
“The fear is there for some people and it’s there for me too,” said the great-grandmother with little ones at both the elementary and high school level.
“The rise of COVID cases and the Delta variant remains in the back of our minds while everything is being looked at.”
The chief confirmed that a policy for online schooling is being drafted for the eventuality of the fourth COVID-19 wave affecting operations in the community.
For the time being, Conway is confident that the plan being put in place is in the best interest of her family and all Kanehsata’kehró:non.
“We were fortunate to be able to keep our families safe,” she said. “To have had the choice last year to be online and then the school making all the safety rules for the new school year – they are all doing great and I’m proud of how Kanesatake has handled the pandemic.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door