The parents of seven students enrolled at a Mi'kmaw school in Sipekne'katik First Nation say they're relieved community leaders have postponed in-school learning by two weeks, to continue preparing measures to address COVID-19.
In a news release Sept. 1, Sipekne'katik First Nation staff said the postponement of classes at L'nu Sipuk Kina'muoKuom [LSK], which teaches children from primary (kindergarten) to Grade 12, was to "ensure the health and safety and to observe provincial school openings" which began Sept. 8.
"That was a relief," said Rose Michael, of Sipekne'katik.
"I think the leadership is doing what they should be doing … because I don't feel they were ready to bring our kids back into school and I still don't feel they're ready."
Rose Michael and her husband Curtis have 12 children, whose ages range from four to 41. Seven of the children live in their home on the reserve, and all but one child, who's requested to be home-schooled this year for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus, will be attending LSK.
Michael said she's concerned the most about younger children who won't be required to wear masks all day at school, and who may have a difficult time following the strict public health measures.
"It's cold season. At that age, they get sick very easily. If one comes home, do they all come home," she said.
"I know they're doing the best at the school, but part of me doesn't want them to go back. Part of me wants them to stay home, do things the way we've been doing it."
Curtis Michael said they're happy the band postponed the reopening.
"With the other [provincial] schools that are opened, if there's a bug in the system, at least our school will have a chance to ... rectify that before it happens in our community."
Teaching kids about 'respecting the virus'
LSK typically accommodates around 200 students and 70 staff members. This year, school administrators have hired two additional custodial staff for cleaning and sanitizing and recently released an educational video for community members that covers a number of other measures to protect against the coronavirus at the school.
The plans include sanitizing and social distancing procedures in classroom "bubbles" and common areas, keeping older and younger students isolated to different parts of the building, body temperature monitors at the school entrance, and the integration of new technology to allow students to learn from home in the event of an outbreak.
"I think the most important reason for students to return to school is not education, it's for their mental health," said LSK principal Kelly Oliver.
"Staff are taking professional development on mental health before school starts … we'll be educating the students [about] respecting the virus. I wear my mask to respect you, and you wear your mask to respect me. It's really looking at that notion of respect," she said.
Stuart Knockwood, Sipekne'katik's emergency management officer, said the strategy at LSK has mirrored the health and safety approach in the community since the pandemic began. He was hired in July, but said he was pleased with progress the community had made already.
"Our health department came out with a presentation for all employees, and they were able to nail everything down that we actually had to do, looking at [the] plans for provincial schools," he said.
'It's a multi-layered approach that includes everything we can do, to the best of our abilities."
Knockwood said while communities across the country are all unsure what's to come, Sipekne'katik leadership has plans in the event of an outbreak.
They include keeping up to four emergency contact numbers for students, training everyone at the school to use laptops they may be provided to learn from home, and stockpiling up to a year's worth of sanitation and safety equipment.
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