Schools prepare for a possible spike in COVID-19 absenteeism

An empty classroom. February 22, 2017. (Photo by Wokandapix from Pixabay)

The Lambton-Kent District School Board is bracing for the potential of a high rate of absenteeism among staff and students due to COVID-19.

It’s also preparing for possible short-term school closures as a result of staffing shortages.

Education Director John Howitt said occasional teachers and temporary staff usually fill in to cover absenteeism but there may not be enough substitute teachers this time around and he is doing everything he can to plan for the possibility that may happen when in-person learning is set to resume on January 17, 2022.

Howitt said this is uncharted territory for his school board and he anticipates changes are coming based on absenteeism rates seen in other schools boards across Ontario. Several school boards are struggling to find supply teachers to cover absenteeism and some have had to resort to placing uncertified teachers and administration in classes to fill in for sick teachers.

“This is going to be new to us and we’re doing some planning around the potential,” said Howitt. “There is a risk that we may be short-staffed and may have to make some alterations within schools that could include short-term closures based on staff shortages.”

Howitt said N-95 masks will be delivered on Friday and will be available for staff by the time school reopens on January 17, 2022. He also said HEPA filters are already in place in learning spaces with 31 more high-efficiency filters coming to enhance air quality.

The St. Clair Catholic District School Board is hoping their N-95 masks will also be delivered before the weekend. Education Director Scott Johnson also said 22 more HEPA filters are coming to add to the filters already in the system.

He hopes every staff and student who hasn’t been vaccinated yet uses their time during the current virtual learning time to get boosted and vaccinated.