The Nunavut government says all schools will be open for 100 per cent in-class learning for all students at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, unless otherwise advised by the chief public health officer.
That's according to the territory's back to school plan, released Tuesday by the Department of Education in collaboration with Nunavut's chief public health officer on Tuesday.
The focus for schools, the plan says, should be "on risk mitigation and recovery learning."
Instead of the four stages used last school year, several factors will determine the pandemic's impact on school operations, including:
The status of COVID-19 in each community, including the transmission of COVID-19 variants.
Healthcare capacity to respond to COVID-19 in a community.
Public health capacity to test, trace and isolate cases.
Vaccine coverage within specific age groups, schools and communities.
The document says it's "critical" to balance the risk of COVID-19 in children with the harms of school closures, and the effects it would have on children's physical and mental health.
"As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we have learned how to adapt to a new reality living and working together," said David Joanasie, minister of education, in a news release.
Joanasie says the plan will support schools supports students, families, school leaders and their teams by providing the "necessary plan for health and safety tools."
"The plans will help mitigate the risks of introduction and spread of the virus in our schools, and ensure a smooth transition and the ongoing education of our young Nunavummiut."
Isolation rooms, 'illness response kits'
Among the safety measures in place, school staff must identify an isolation room at the start of the year where individuals who start exhibiting symptoms or who have been exposed to COVID-19 can wait to be picked up.
"Remember that this may be a difficult experience for an individual. Support them with compassion and dignity and ensure their physical and emotional needs are met while they wait," the plan reads.
Schools have also been provided with "illness response kits," which include non-medical masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes.
In the event of a positive case within a school, public health staff will work closely with the Department of Education and school leaders to make sure anyone who may be at higher risk are identified and given "instructions and expectations."
The document said schools could be required to transition to remote instruction depending on the COVID-19 situation.
For the distribution and collection of learning packages, all participants, including staff, students, and parents/guardians, have to wear masks and staff distributing materials should wear disposable gloves, the document says. If students or families do not have a mask, the school must provide a disposable nonmedical mask.
Food programs, buses resume
The plans says the general public and all "non-essential visitors," including parents and guardians, are not allowed to enter schools for the duration of the school year, with a few exceptions.
Elders, who provide valuable learning opportunities for students, are still "strongly encouraged" to come to schools, as long as COVID-19 protocols are followed at all times, the document said.
Anyone who believes they were exposed to COVID-19 within 14 days or who feel symptomatic cannot enter the school. A COVID-19 screening form has been developed as a tool for school staff who believe they might be symptomatic.
Food programs and cafeterias will also resume, but with enhanced safety measures, the document said.
Schools have been directed to work closely with bus service providers to include risk mitigation strategies in their planning and scheduling. As well, anyone on a school bus must adhere to the mask requirements determined by the chief public health officer, it said.
When masks are required on buses, bus service providers should carry boxes of disposable masks for students who have forgotten or soiled their masks. The plan adds that these measures "can and will change" as vaccination uptake increases in communities.
The territory also released its long-term plan in dealing with COVID-19 on Tuesday, saying it can now be treated like any other "vaccine-prevented disease."
The school reopening plan says that if any of its rules contradict the chief public health officer's guidelines, then the latter takes precedence.
For more information and to read the 2021-22 Opening Plan for Nunavut Schools, visit the territory's website.