An empty classroom at Vanier Secondary School in Whitehorse on Aug. 12. Yukon’s education minister says the government is “exploring options” to return high school students back to full-time classes. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon government investigating options to return students to full-time classes

“It is our absolute top priority”

Yukon’s education minister says returning high school students to full-time classes is a “top priority” for the government.

“We’re doing the assessment now where we’re checking in with administrators, with teachers, we’re trying to figure out what the resolutions could be going forward. It’s critical that money will be part of the solution, perhaps, if that’s where we land, but it’s not the only solution,” said Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee.

During the question period in the legislature Oct. 6, opposition education critic Scott Kent asked McPhee about two pools of money for education: $4.16 million from the federal government and $634,000 that lapsed from the previous budget.

Kent suggested the funds could be spent on returning high school students to full time or upgrading ventilation systems in the schools.

McPhee responded that the funds are being used for cleaning supplies, increased custodial services, PPE such as gloves and reusable masks, equipment for learning spaces, health and safety training, technology, in-person study halls and relocation of programs.

She added to the end of that list “and, of course, our top priority, which is returning Grades 10 to 12 to school full time.”

To reporters, McPhee said the challenge is that money alone won’t solve the problem of half-day classes, which were created in order to follow public health recommendations for smaller class sizes and spacing.

“I can’t possibly build a school next door to any of the other high schools or next door to me or anywhere in Whitehorse in two months, so money does not solve the spacing issue. It’s the reality, certainly across this country, and the concept that we can somehow solve that with additional funds is just not possible at the moment,” she said.

“It is our absolute top priority. This is not something that we’ve chosen for the long term. This is not something that we’re interested in having happen, despite the fact that some students are responding really well. Other students are not responding well,” she said.

The decision to have Grade 10, 11 and 12 students attend half-day classes, rather than full-time school, has been controversial. A Facebook group created for concerned parents now has over 300 members.

Right now the senior high school students attend half-day classes with teachers, some in the morning and some in the afternoon. The remainder of the day is spent either at home or in study halls, where they are expected to continue doing classwork.

Parents and students in the group have expressed concerns that many students will have trouble keeping up without more face-time with teachers. Grade 12 students in particular may be relying on high marks in order to attend post-secondary.

Other decisions about returning to school during COVID-19 have also raised ire among some students and parents.

A petition calling for the Music, Arts and Drama (MAD) special program to be moved from Porter Creek Secondary School to a different location will be tabled in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on Oct. 7.

The program normally takes place at Wood Street Centre School, but was moved to PCSS in order to allow room for other classes.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

CoronavirusYukon Department of EducationYukon legislative assembly

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