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Local school boards say they are prepared to tackle staffing shortages

Amid staff shortages, a shift to remote learning is the last resort

Local school boards are prepared to tackle staffing shortages as the province makes the switch to in-person learning on Monday.

The Upper Grand District School Board and the Wellington Catholic District School Board are ready with contingency plans that include redirecting centrally-assigned staff, bringing in emergency supply staff, calling retired teachers and, lastly, a shift to temporary remote learning as a last resort. 

UGDSB communications manager Heather Loney said when in-person learning resumes the board will conduct a daily review to monitor absenteeism rates. 

“Each situation will likely require a tailored response,” said Loney. 

“At this time, we are not planning for rotating school closures to in-person learning.”

WCDSB’s communication officer Ali Wilson said the WCDSB will be tracking daily staff and student absence data starting the week of Jan. 24 to report to the province. 

"This information will be available publicly. In addition, schools will also report absences to public health when they exceed the minimum threshold," said Wilson. 

Two weeks ago, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health (OCMOH) stated that all sectors must plan for the potential of higher than normal levels of absenteeism in the coming weeks as people follow screening and isolation guidance. 

“The education sector is not immune to this, and it will mean planning for higher than normal student and staff absenteeism,” said the OCMOH. 

Earlier this week, the province announced an agreement with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation that nearly doubles the number of days a retired teacher can work. It also invested $304 million to support the hiring of 2,000 staff.

The province said school boards were reporting high rates of absenteeism from education staff well before Omicron was present in Ontario. 

Wilson said the board is hopeful that the availability of retirees will relieve the anticipated pressures of school shortages.   

"We recognize that if we experience significant staffing challenges that impact the ability of schools to safely operate and supervise students, it may be necessary to look at other strategies such as temporary, time-limited transitions to remote learning for particular classes or schools, where necessary,” said Wilson. 

“We know that schools are the best place for student well-being and we are focused on keeping our students engaged in in-person learning to the extent possible.”

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