Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut September 24, 2009 - 10:50 am

DEA goes broke, can’t buy cleaning supplies to ward off swine flu outbreak

GN bails out Sanikiluaq school, investigates financial mystery

JANE GEORGE
When school started up at Nuiyak School in Sanikiluaq last month, the Sanikiluaq District Education Authority had no money to pay for basic cleaning supplies, a situation that casts doubt on the school's readiness to prevent and deal with a swine flu outbreak. It's not clear what happened to the DEA's money. (FILE PHOTO)
When school started up at Nuiyak School in Sanikiluaq last month, the Sanikiluaq District Education Authority had no money to pay for basic cleaning supplies, a situation that casts doubt on the school's readiness to prevent and deal with a swine flu outbreak. It's not clear what happened to the DEA's money. (FILE PHOTO)

Students at Nuiyak School in Sanikiluaq were earlier this month “washing their hands with Sunlight,” a popular dishwashing detergent, because the local school committee ran out of money, a concerned Sanikiluaq resident told Nunatsiaq News in an email this week.

At the same time, a financial cloud now hangs over the Sanikiluaq District Education Authority, after the Government of Nunavut came to its rescue with a $38,000 bailout.

All this came to light at the beginning of the school year, when the school ended up with no money to buy basic supplies, including sanitizing liquids and paper towels, and money to pay for substitute teachers.

After one teacher got sick, students were sent home because the DEA, which hires replacement staff, turned out to have no money.

Parents were told that any time a teacher was absent, the teacher’s students would be sent home.

Tim Hoyt, the new principal of Nuiyak School, and Elijah Sala, the chairperson of the DEA, who is also the hamlet mayor, didn’t want to talk about the DEA’s woes when contacted by Nunatsiaq News.

But the impact on Nuiyak students is common knowledge in the community, Hudson Bay MLA Alan Rumboldt confirmed.

And the local district education authority does have “financial difficulties,” Peter Geikie, an assistant deputy minister of education, admitted in a Sept. 23 interview.

“As to why they are in this situation, we’re not sure,” he said.

The department of education will investigate how and why the DEA’s money disappeared, Geikie said.

To ease the crisis, the GN gave Sanikiluaq’s DEA $38,000 earlier this month, a portion of the regular funding handed to the group.

The education department also plans to help Nuiyak and other Nunavut schools get ready for a possible swine flu outbreak by sending hand sanitizers and anti-septic wipes if necessary, Geikie said.

Nunavut schools are now supposed to be taking extra measures to prevent and control the spread of swine flu, by “upping the [cleaning] routine,” he said.

But until recently, the school in Sanikiluaq had no cleaning supplies and no money to buy them.

The shortfall comes at a time when Nunavut schools are supposed to do more to increase cleanliness and develop action plans to deal with absenteeism caused by sickness among staff and students.

This additional cleaning is supposed to include more checks on washrooms, more frequent emptying of wastebaskets, and increased cleaning of all surfaces and drinking fountains.

Proper handwashing techniques are also part of the prevention plan, Geikie said.

The GN plans to focus on these measures to curb swine flu transmission and precent outbreaks.

“It’s not our intent to close our schools” to stop the spread of swine flu, Geikie said.

“The recommendation is out there that that’s not where we want to go,” he said.

Nunavut does not plan to take pregnant teachers off the job or make pregnant students leave school.

Quebec public health officials have recommended that pregnant women who work in child care centres, schools and hospitals take advantage of the government’s early maternity leave program to reduce the risk of catching the H1N1 swine flu virus.

Although pregnant women do not catch swine flu more easily, pregnant women run a greater risk of developing complications after an infection.

In Quebec, the law on occupational health and safety allows pregnant workers to be assigned, where possible, “to tasks presenting no danger to them or their unborn child or to be withdrawn from the workplace with financial compensation.”

But the GN has no similar measures in place.

Geikie said if school staff and students feel a flu coming on, they should stay home, contact their local health centre and take care of themselves.

“Their health is a priority,” he said.

The education department plans to keep tabs on school attendance in the territory to track the evolution of swine flu outbreaks.

“Our intent is if possible is to keep out schools open and operating,” he said.

Schools may consider deferring classes if about 30 per cent of students and staff are off sick, in consultation with local public health officials, say Canada’s public health officials.

To prevent swine flu, the Public Health Agency of Canada suggests staff and students in schools should:

• Stay home when sick;
• Wash hands often for at least 15 seconds with soap and water;
• Use hand sanitizer if you can’t wash;
• Avoid touching your face;
• Sneeze and cough into your upper sleeve, not your hands;
• Keep cleaning supplies and dispensers well stocked;
• Wash surfaces like keyboards, doorknobs and toys twice a day; and,
• Isolate students who develop flu symptoms.

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