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Yellowknife’s largest school board says students likely won’t return to class Aug. 28

Yellowknife school boards say it’s unlikely students will return to classes as scheduled on Aug. 28 given the current wildfire situation and evacuation. 

“I have no belief we will be able to start school on time,” Jameel Aziz, the CEO of Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (YK1), the city’s largest school board, told CBC News on Sunday afternoon. 

YK1 teaches junior kindergarten to Grade 12 and has a student population of about 2,200. 

Wildfires in the Northwest Territories have triggered evacuation orders not only in Yellowknife but also the communities of Ndilo, Dettah, Fort Smith, Enterprise, Hay River, Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Kakisa and Jean Marie River.

École Allain St-Cyr in Yellowknife and École Boréale in Hay River of le Commission Scolaire Francophone Territories du Nord-Ouest were set to reopen on Aug. 28 and Aug. 29, respectively. 

The francophone school board is set to meet with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment on Tuesday but “I can almost venture to guess that students will not be back at school on [those dates],” said CSFTNO superintendent Yvonne Careen. 

Careen flew back to Yellowknife on Thursday after visiting family in Newfoundland, only to drive out in a caravan with her son to Saskatchewan on Friday. 

A portrait of a man.
‘We have to have a core amount of staff back. And then we have to give people time to prepare for the students and families as they begin to return,’ says Jameel Aziz, the CEO of the Yellowknife Education District No. 1 school board. (Yellowknife Public Education District No. 1)

There is no date set yet for people’s return to Yellowknife, Shane Thompson, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, said during the N.W.T. wildfire update on Saturday night.

The wildfire threatening Yellowknife from the northwest was projected to reach the city outskirts on the weekend, but weather and firefighting progress changed that outlook.

Still, fire activity was expected to pick up again by Sunday afternoon.

“We have to look at the situation,” Thompson said Saturday about bringing people back.

“It’s about safety and there’s a number of criteria we need to look at. We don’t want to bring people back and have to send people back out again.” 

In Hay River, the timeline for re-entry is weeks, not days, Mayor Kandis Jameson said Sunday morning.

Based on remarks like that, “school will not start on time. That’s very clear,” Aziz said. He added that he booked a flight back for Thursday but “that’s probably not going to happen.”

Most of YK1’s students and staff ended up in Alberta, others in B.C. Monday was supposed to kick off professional development and training for staff. 

Staff without computers

While the territory was able to move 19,000 people out of the capital swiftly, the eventual return may be more protracted, Aziz said from Kamloops, B.C. 

“We have to determine the safety of our buildings [and] grounds,” Aziz said.

“We have to have a core amount of staff back and then we have to give people time to prepare for the students and families as they begin to return. Whether that’s a really fast return or a slow return, I think it’s far too early to tell.”

Some new hires may decide “to take their expertise and training somewhere else” because it’s a competitive market, Aziz added. 

Asked if virtual learning is a possibility, Aziz noted people left Yellowknife with the bare essentials and many staff are without their laptops. 

“Public education is supposed to be a level playing field,” he said. 

CBC News has also reached out to Yellowknife Catholic Schools (YCS), South Slave Divisional Education Council, Dettah District Education Authority and Ndilǫ District Education Authority about their plans.

YCS said in a letter to parents Thursday it was too early to say whether its schools would be ready to open on Aug. 28.

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