If COVID-19 clusters don’t force classes to move away after students return for face-to-face instruction later this month, staff shortages are almost certain to be.
Leaders of public and independent schools are preparing contingency plans in the event of high absenteeism among educators, during the widespread return of kindergarten to grade 12 buildings on January 17.
“We’re going to be faced with the reality of having to shut down a class because we don’t have a teacher, or shut down, say, part of the school for five days until the teachers have self-taught. isolated and tested, if they got sick, ”said Reg Klassen, superintendent of the Frontier School Division. “I’m worried about it, but it’s a reality. “
The updated isolation rules require anyone who is symptomatic or tests positive for the virus, including via a rapid antigen test, to self-isolate immediately for at least five days.
(Despite recent changes to test eligibility, K-12 students and educators can still take a PCR test at a provincial site.)
There have long been concerns about shrinking lists of surrogates, which are particularly serious in rural and northern communities, across the province throughout the pandemic. Some replacements have decided not to work this year to limit close contact.
In the spring, when the highly infectious Delta variant – which is not as transmissible as Omicron – took hold, a high number of unfulfilled replacement requests prompted some schools to pull away.
“(Distance learning) will either be imposed now or urgently later,” said Lauren Hope, mother and teacher in Winnipeg, who co-founded the Safe September MB movement.
Safe September MB has repeatedly called on the province to require vaccination of all students and education staff, prioritize educators for booster injections, and introduce frequent and widespread rapid testing in school communities. , as well as CO2 monitors, HEPA filters and KN95 or N95 masks.
As for Hope, readjusting desks to be more spaced out for January 17 is nowhere near enough to prevent Omicron transmission and keep teachers on the job.
The latest shade of Code Orange (the restricted level of the provincial pandemic response system) in schools will be slightly different from what it was in 2020-2021, given updated provincial protocols and availability vaccines.
Alan Campbell, president of the school boards association, said the focus was on strengthening the cohort and widening the distance. Some divisions may also try to recall staff who were hired last year to meet the demands of allocating students to multiple classrooms, he said.
This time around, the province provided divisions with rapid test kits for K-6 students and called for three-layer medical masks to be worn by both education workers and teachers. students inside schools. Music lessons, indoor physical education, and extracurricular activities can continue with masking and physical distancing in place, where possible.
High school students are also expected to stay in class full-time, the province said, although Frontier officials have indicated that its schools may have no choice but to resort to alternate learning.
“Because of the level of vaccination, we can do things differently and we can run the school closer to normal even with a significant spread of the new variant,” said Brian O’Leary, who oversees the Seven Oaks school. Division.
Vaccination rates among high school students and division staff are just under 90 and 98.5 percent, respectively.
Even still, as a growing number of staff must isolate themselves in the coming weeks, O’Leary said priority for replacements will go to the early years, teachers may be asked to replace their colleagues, and teachers may be asked to replace their colleagues. Guidance counselors, clinicians and other support staff might be called upon.
Temporary closure of a class, cohort or school is a last resort in every corner of the province.
Ted Fransen, superintendent of the Pembina Trails School Division, said he anticipates new guidelines regarding school contact tracing protocols will be introduced soon, following Omicron.
With all schools moved away next week, Fransen said families can expect the same they experienced on previous home education stays.
Primary and secondary students will be responsible for a mix of independent and real-time lessons, while kindergarten children are encouraged to engage in meaningful play.
Fransen, however, said the curriculum may have to take a back seat if educators are to focus on student well-being issues.
“Distance learning is preferable to learning in person, and the isolation, we know from the last time, has created all kinds of problems and concerns for students and their families,” he said. declared. “We have to be very careful about the impact of this. “
Maggie Macintosh, reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative, Winnipeg Free Press