Whitehorse high school students back in class full-time starting April 19

·4 min read
Since last fall, Grades 10 to 12 students from F.H. Collins, Vanier Catholic and Porter Creek secondary schools have been spending half-days at school, and the rest of their school days outside the class. They'll be back in class full time starting on April 19. (CBC - image credit)
Since last fall, Grades 10 to 12 students from F.H. Collins, Vanier Catholic and Porter Creek secondary schools have been spending half-days at school, and the rest of their school days outside the class. They'll be back in class full time starting on April 19. (CBC - image credit)

Grades 10 to 12 students in Whitehorse will be going back to class full-time starting on April 19.

Since last fall, those students from F.H. Collins, Vanier Catholic and Porter Creek secondary schools have been spending half-days at school, with the other half spent outside the class.

Nicole Morgan, Yukon's deputy minister of Education, announced the change on Wednesday morning, saying it was always the government's intention to get all students back in class full-time. She said her department is acting on a recommendation from territorial health officials.

"The risks are very low, and outweigh the risks of keeping students out of school full time," Morgan said.

"We know that students learn better when they are in school and they have the support of their teachers, their classmates and their friends."

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Morgan said details around the transition are still being worked out with department officials, school administrators and school councils. But she said it was important to make the change now, even as the end of the school year approaches.

"By bringing students back to school at this time, we will be able to provide approximately 90 hours of face to face instruction and this is a significant and meaningful opportunity to address any learning gaps," she said.

School staff will be given two days — April 15 and 16 — for planning. Grades 10 to 12 students will not attend any in-school class those days, and will instead be expected to work on assignments at home.

"Our goal is to make the transition as least disruptive as possible so students can stay focused on learning and we can ensure they have the supports that they need," Morgan said.

Yukon's chief medical officer has updated school safety guidelines to allow for the change.

The two-metre distance rule will be relaxed, but other measures will be emphasized including those aimed at minimizing any mixing or close contact between groups or cohorts of students. There will be limited congregation of students and staff in common areas between classes, and masks will need to be used in those areas.

Morgan said the transition back to class won't affect students' course load. But she schedules might need adjustment, and those details will be worked out in the coming weeks. Bussing schedules will also be adjusted.

She said students and parents will be given more details before April 19.

Yukon 'still at risk,' despite vaccination rates

Also at Wednesday's news conference, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley spoke about the territory's latest cases of COVID-19. Two were identified last week as the first cases involving variants of concern.

Hanley said Wednesday that both people — one a Yukoner and one a non-Yukoner — were doing well.

"These individuals did the right thing and did not spread the infection," he said.

Hanley also cautioned about the ongoing potential risk of an outbreak in Yukon. He pointed to what's happening elsewhere in Canada, as many jurisdictions struggle with a so-called third wave of the pandemic.

"We will see more introductions of this virus. We need to stay on top of this, we are still at risk," he said.

"By staying on our game, we can ride out the threat that the current third wave in Canada is posing for us."

'We will see more introductions of this virus. We need to stay on top of this, we are still at risk,' said Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer, on Wednesday.
'We will see more introductions of this virus. We need to stay on top of this, we are still at risk,' said Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer, on Wednesday.(Philippe Morin/CBC)

As of Tuesday, 23,674 people in Yukon had received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. The government's weekly vaccine tracker says that represents about 67 per cent of the eligible population. Of those people, 11,154 had received a second shot.

Hanley urged people to get vaccinated, saying that even though the territory is in an "enviable position" right now with its vaccination rates, there's still a ways to go. He also said that younger adults — those in their 30s, 40s or 50s — seem to be at higher risk of more serious outcomes related to the variants of concern.

"Right now there are easily enough susceptible adults, let alone children, to allow for circulation of virus and outbreaks," he said.

To date, the territory has seen 73 cases of COVID-19, with 71 people recovered and one person who died.