Schools across the Northwest Territories will be reopening in the fall, but it will not be education as usual.
On Friday, the territorial government released information on what that reopening will look like, including daily COVID-19 screening for students and staff, masks when bussing, no assemblies, staggered recess periods and spacing of desks and other furniture.
In a news release, the government said the risks associated with opening schools must be weighed against the harms of keeping them closed. It points out that those harms are not limited to lower quality education.
"Since the last day of school on March 13, 2020, there has be a significant reduction in the reporting of child maltreatment to social services," reads the release. "However, this decrease in reporting is not indicative of less harm. Over the past seven weeks, there have been increases in child apprehensions, and serious incidences of child abuse."
The rules will be different for different grade levels and age groups, based on national and international research that shows that the younger a person is, the less likely they are to get COVID-19. If they do contract it, they are less likely to spread it to others, according to statistics cited by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola.
Students in junior kindergarten to Grade 6 will not have to practice physical distancing while in the classroom. But they will have to take additional steps, such as wearing non-medical face masks when on the school bus or in school hallways.
Physical distancing will be required for students in Grades 7 to 12, which may mean some schools may have to use spaces in addition to classrooms to maintain distance.
Though students will be taught in classrooms as much as possible, part of maintaining that space for older students may be blended learning, with students attending school in the mornings or afternoons and working from home the other half of the day.
Students who are 19 years of age or older will not be allowed in classrooms under the government's reopening plan. They will have to rely on distance learning.
Details of the reopening in September will be finalized in plans submitted by each school, which will depend on the size of the school and resources available. The government says those plans will be made available to parents and students once they are approved by the chief public health officer.
If a case of COVID-19 is identified in a school, parents should be prepared for their children to be sent home as quickly as possible and the school shut down while officials try to determine who may have been in contact with the person.
"Schools are building flexibility into their planning to prepare for a possible second wave of COVID-19, both to ensure that schools are able to remain open as much as possible and that teachers can adapt models of learning to the changing COVID-19 situation," the news release notes.