After just over a week of classes, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools has run out of substitute teachers, says a local Alberta Teachers’ Association president.
“Until today we’ve been pretty good about filling absences with subs. But starting today and the rest of the week that’s not happening anymore. We’re out of subs,” said ATA Local president Brice Unland, according to information he received Wednesday from school division.
He said Red Deer Catholic has about 600 teachers and shares access to 150 substitute teachers with other school jurisdictions.
Ryan Ledene, associate superintendent of personnel with Red Deer Catholic, said on Wednesday 60 teachers were absent, 44 substitutes were brought in, eight positions were filled by other school staff, and eight did not require substitutes.
“The demand is exceeding the supply of subs. There aren’t enough,” Ledene said.
But no classes had to move online, he said.
“We don’t currently have any (classes) that we’ve had to move to remote. We’ve been able to cover it all,” Ledene said.
He said principals want to keep kids in school if at all possible. Administrators to counsellors have gone into the classroom to make it work.
“Omicron is certainly spreading and it’s taking its toll on attendance for students and staff but we’re hanging in there,” Ledene said.
Unland said absenteeism quickly hit Edmonton and Calgary schools last week after classes resumed following the Christmas break. That didn’t happen in Red Deer and other central Alberta communities, and maybe smaller communities will not be impacted to the same extent in the weeks to come. But the province’s so-called “robust plan” to keep schools safe during COVID-19 is not good enough.
“The masks and the extra measures that were announced are pretty laughable. If hand sanitizer and (single layer) masks is a robust plan, I think people should know that’s what’s taking place so they can make appropriate decisions.”
Unland said masks, like those given to customers at stores and restaurants, arrived a few days after classes started at Ecole Secondaire Notre Dame High School where he teaches, along rapid tests. But other schools are still waiting for supplies.
He said most teachers are happy to be back in school, but the environment isn’t any safer.
As of Monday, Unland said one third of his students were missing and as classes get smaller it will be difficult to teach students in class and at home at the same time.
Staff absenteeism at Red Deer Public Schools was 13.08 per cent on Tuesday. Staff could be absent for a variety of reasons, but higher rates of absenteeism in both staff and students was due to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.
“We are fortunate at this point in time that no classes have had to move online. However, we recognize there is the potential that we will need to move a class or grade to temporary remote learning,” said Chad Erickson, Red Deer Public Schools superintendent, in a statement.
Red Deer Public Schools has a COVID-19 Dashboard on its website, which is updated once a day at the end of each school day, to keep families informed.
He said Omicron continues to be a challenge for schools, but the best learning takes place in classrooms and the district is working hard to ensure students and staff are safe.
“The most important thing we are asking students and staff to do is to stay home if they are unwell. That is more important now than ever.”