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'A forced vacation': Yellowknife students making the best of indefinite school delay

Joe Curran, 17, left and his sister Anna Curran, 14, along with Victor Lumacad, 15, should be starting school Monday. Instead, they say they're making the best out of a difficult situation. Both families are staying in Calgary while evacuated. (Curran family/Victor Lumacad - image credit)
Joe Curran, 17, left and his sister Anna Curran, 14, along with Victor Lumacad, 15, should be starting school Monday. Instead, they say they're making the best out of a difficult situation. Both families are staying in Calgary while evacuated. (Curran family/Victor Lumacad - image credit)

Students in Yellowknife and other evacuated communities should be starting school Monday but with no re-entry plan, administrators have delayed the start of classes indefinitely.

On Friday, parents received a letter from Yellowknife and area schools, confirming that, not only will school not start on Monday, as originally planned — but it won't start the following week either.

"We can state clearly that schools will not be open for student attendance on August 29, 2023. We also know they will not be opening on September 5, 2023," reads a portion of the letter.

Victor Lumacad,15, is living in a Calgary hotel with his family and says he's been "trying to keep an open mind and stay positive.

"Of course there's a little worry about what's going on at home right now but in my mind, I like to treat it as vacation," Lumacad told CBC morning radio show host Paul Karchut in an interview Sunday morning.

"It's a forced vacation of course but there's plenty for us to do in Calgary."

Teens staying positive

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

Nearly 70 per cent of N.W.T. residents are displaced.

Still, displaced Yellowknife teen siblings say they're making the best of an uncertain situation.

"I'm pretty confident in the school and teachers to keep us on track to have a good school year," said Anna Curran, a Grade 9 student from Yellowknife.

School staff part of staged re-entry

Curran and her family – including her 17-year-old brother Joe Curran – are staying with friends in Calgary.

"It's unfortunate what's happening but I feel like we've been getting the resources that will get us through that time," said Joe.

Officials say when it's safe to return to Yellowknife, re-entry will be done in a staged approach so that services can be re-established.

"This means things like making sure you have safe drinking water and that we're able to do sewage pump outs, that the airport is open for commercial flights, that stores have food, that there are enough health-care professionals at the hospital to help you when you need them," said Mayor Rebecca Alty in a video posted to Facebook Saturday.

Teachers and school administrators will be part of that process, according to the Yellowknife schools' letter.

"This includes inspecting our facilities, providing time for our staff to return to Yellowknife, and ensuring they have time to prepare for the return of students," it said.

The president of the N.W.T. Teacher's Association has already confirmed that online learning will not take place.

Teachers and students are scattered, Matthew Miller said last week, and not everyone has access to computers and reliable internet.

The territory's Department of Education will release a Q&A on social media and the GNWT Public Safety page in the coming days.