Classes at some central Alberta schools could move online before the end of the week, due to teacher illness and a lack of substitutes.
In-person classes only started-up in at Alberta school divisions on Monday — and by Tuesday, teacher absenteeism at some schools was already causing administration to look at alternatives.
“We are going to do our level best to keep kids in classes,” said Bruce Buruma, community relations director of Red Deer Public Schools. But he added many schools are already struggling to get the number of substitute teachers needed to fill in.
Buruma did not know the absentee rate at various schools, but he said the impact on staffing levels is already apparent. “It’s not surprising,” given the rising sickness of health care, municipal workers and those in the private-sector, he added.
“We are anticipating that (teacher) absenteeism is going to grow…”
Buruma stressed that the safety and well-being of all staff and students “must be taken care of.”
Under provincial requirements, anyone who has been fully vaccinated but develops flu-like symptoms or who is asymptomatic but tests positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate for at least five days. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people must isolate for 10 days or until symptoms resolve, which ever is longer.
The isolation period is creating longer-term absences. Instead of teachers staying home for a few days with the flu, as happened pre-pandemic, they must be away for five days or longer, said Buruma.
Parents will be notified that some classes could be switched to online learning at short-notice, said Buruma. “There is the potential, the possibility, that some classes could go to online before the end of this week.”
Chinook’s Edge Schools are also experiencing growing teacher absences. Superintendent Kurt Sacher said the district has a wide area of substitute teachers from draw from — the school division goes south to Cremona — but it’s already getting hard to find substitutes at short notice.
Sacher’s school division is considering “creative teaching strategies” to try to keep in-person learning going for as long as possible. This includes bringing in some support staff to supervise classes for short periods, if needed.
Classes cannot be combined because of the need to retain student cohorts, said Sacher, so that’s exacerbating the problem. Despite having contingency plans to continue with in-class learning, he sees the possibility of some classes having to be moved online later this week, or next.
Sacher added it’s not a surprise that teacher absenteeism is already becoming an issue, since school districts had foreseen this problem.
Alberta school board members had brought staffing concerns forward at a meeting with Education Minister Adriana LaGrange last week. The province responded that it will provide masks and rapid COVID-19 test kits to schools.
School districts can make the decision to go online for certain classes or grades. But only Alberta’s Education has the power to push entire schools or divisions online.
However, Sacher said school divisions were told that they could move most classes online, if needed, as long as a few classes were still learning in-person at the school.
A representative from Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools could not be reached for comment.