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COVID-19 staff absences hit home in London area school boards

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School boards in the London area are grappling with a flood of staff absences as the number of sixth wave cases continues to rise, a situation so critical it forced two schools to go online on Friday.

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The Thames Valley District School Board says staffing issues have forced it to switch from in-person to online learning at Sir Isaac Brock and Lambeth Elementary Schools. Meanwhile, the London District Catholic School Board has seen its staff absence rate triple in recent weeks.

The one-day school closures come as an administrator says Thames Valley processes around 400 vacancies each day, a total which may also include non-COVID-related absences.

“This was discussed at our last program meeting,” curator Lori-Ann Pizzolato, who chairs the board, said Friday.

“We are concerned about the mental health of the family and staff at this time. We want to work with our community partners to see what we can do.

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The exact number of furloughed staff at Thames Valley Council was not available on Friday. The board must report schools with more than 30% of staff and students absent to public health officials and said a handful of schools have reached that threshold since the start of the school year.

The school board is holding a special meeting on Tuesday evening where it will receive updates from the Middlesex-London Health Unit and Southwestern Public Health, the health office for Elgin and Oxford counties.

“We want them to educate us on the local context and provide unique advice,” Pizzolato said.

“We want this public meeting so they can make it clear to families and staff what their expectations and advice are for our Thames Valley community.”

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Staff absenteeism on any given day typically ranged from 2% to 3% across the London District Catholic School Board during the pandemic, education director Vince Romeo said on Friday.

In the three weeks following March Break, the board saw its daily staff absence rate hit 12%.

“We do our best to manage these absences every day,” he said. “We’ve even deployed a dozen sophomores from the Faculty of Education on some of our regular short-term assignments. That’s how serious the situation is right now. »

When classes were online, a teacher could continue to teach classes online even if they had a mild symptom, Romeo said. The protocols in place for in-person learning prevent staff from coming if they have any symptoms, he said.

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“We still use daily self-screening. Our staff and students are encouraged to complete the screening tool provided by our public health units,” Romeo said.

“If you have a symptom that lands in this screening tool, the end result may be that you need to stay home. From now on, staying at home means several days, not just one.

Pushing a school online due to staffing shortages is a last resort for the Catholic board, Romeo said. Schools will bring in substitute teachers, deploy teachers who are not assigned to a class, such as music or French teachers, to a main class or merge classes to avoid closing a school.

Romeo applauded the parents and students who have been so accommodating during the pandemic.

“They’ve been so patient and cooperative and resilient with the back and forth between remote learning and face-to-face learning,” he said.

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The Middlesex-London Health Unit reported 58 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a total that does not reflect the full extent of disease activity in the community due to limited testing eligibility in laboratory.

The daily number of cases has been rising steadily in London and Middlesex County since mid-March.

School boards are not the only organizations in the London area battling staff absenteeism in the latest phase of the pandemic.

The London Health Sciences Center reported 294 cases of COVID-19 among staff on Friday, up from 218 about a week ago. Each positive staff member is required to isolate at home for 10 days.

The hospital said last week that the volume of staff absences was limiting its ability to ramp up services in the post-emergency phase of the pandemic.

St. Joseph’s Health Care London has around 151 cases of COVID-19 among staff.

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