With the holiday season closing in and festive decorations being removed from storage, this usual means a trip south for a lot of workers in Nunavut to visit family and recharge their batteries. This is especially true for teachers in Nunavut, many of whom come from the south in search of meaningful employment.
Some may spend time and Nunavut and rotate out while others decide to transplant their life to the Arctic, but getting an opportunity to reconnect with family is something that nearly everyone feels is important.
But 2020 has been a year like no other for a very obvious reason. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Nunavut swiftly took action and shut down travel in and out of the territory. Isolation protocols and physical distancing were in place from the start.
It has been a pragmatic approach, considering the prevalence of respiratory illness in Nunavut, which is overrun with poor and cramped living conditions in many public housing units.
With all the Covid health risks associated, Education Minister David Joanasie does not see teachers taking their holidays down south as being “essential.”
Following a decision earlier in the year to call all teachers outside of the territory back to Nunavut to do their jobs in person, Joanasie is similarly telling teachers now that he “is not entertaining any educators to work from isolation hubs.” Meaning that if teachers go south to visit family, they will be isolating for 14 days on their own vacation time and expected to be at work when the school year resumes.
Nunavut Teachers’ Association president John Fanjoy, while supporting then-Health Minister George Hickes’ call to avoid non-essential travel, has come out saying that requests to accommodate isolation should be considered for the mental well-being of teachers.
“A blanket ‘no’ response to leave requests from our members during Christmas break is not an acceptable approach,” Fanjoy said.
While decisions around the issue should have been set in stone a month ago, teachers will likely face some hard decisions. With Christmas break being roughly three weeks, self-isolation being two weeks and there being a day or two of travel on either end, educators will be sacrificing 12 days of vacation for approximately five with their families.
This will be a tall order for those who are anxious to be reunited with love ones. It adds another layer of difficulty to the job and likely to next year’s recruiting process, but it is a necessary sacrifice.
With new cases popping up within Nunavut’s borders that are directly related to travel, opening the floodgates is not a good idea. Many Nunavummiut from Kugluktuk to Arviat to Pangnirtung are worried about essential workers coming into their communities, let alone teachers returning from a short Christmas holiday.
If the government has to tighten its purse strings and stop paying for isolation stemming from non-essential travel, then teachers should be no exception.
As the mantra of our time goes: “We are all in this together.”