Yukon aims for in-person classes, but Omicron could force switch to remote learning

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WHITEHORSE — The priority for schools in Yukon remains on keeping students in classrooms, but the highly transmissible COVID-19 Omicron variant could force adjustments, say education and health officials.

In-class learning for Yukon students will be tested by the spread of the Omicron variant as it hits teachers, students, staff and administrators, deputy education minister Nicole Morgan said Friday.

Officials plan to keep students in classrooms as long as safely possible by, among other things, shifting resources and using targeted remote learning options, she said.

However, a switch to remote learning is not being ruled out, Morgan said during a news conference.

"If we have to move fully to remote learning, if that's where the Omicron wave takes us, then we will have to go there," said Morgan. "But we'd like not to go there until we have to."

Yukon reported 41 new COVID-19 cases Friday.

The territory says 88 per cent, or 36,871 Yukon residents, children and adults, have had their first vaccine dose. Eighty per cent of residents have received two vaccine shots and 13,925 people have had a booster shot.

Yukon students returned to school earlier this week while classes were delayed or moved to online learning across many other parts of Canada to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Dr. Catherine Elliott, Yukon's acting chief medical officer of health, said health officials are watching the situation carefully and will work with the Education Department in the best interests of students, staff and administration.

"For the time being, however, the level of risk in schools is acceptable and I'm confident in the decision to have students return to classrooms this year," she said.

Morgan said the school system must be nimble in its approach to adjusting to the challenges of the Omicron variant.

Plans are in the works to shift teachers and administrators to schools experiencing staffing shortages due to sickness, while other schools may switch to remote learning temporarily as Omicron spreads, she said.

"We can expect to see these types of, for the lack of a better word, what I'm calling rolling remote learning, and when we do that we will try to keep it to as short a period as possible ... because we know that in-person learning is the most optimal environment for students," Morgan said.

New public health measures started Friday in the territory, limiting personal gatherings indoors to 10 people and outdoor events to 25.

Organized indoor events are capped at 50 per cent capacity and proof of vaccination is required.

- By Dirk Meissner in Victoria.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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