Absenteeism rates remain high in Calgary schools as officials scramble to fill hundreds of unfilled teaching and support staff positions in classrooms.
As of early Tuesday, up to 165 teaching positions and 61 support staff positions were unfilled within the Calgary Board of Education, down slightly from Monday when 184 teaching positions and 47 support staff positions were vacant.
And while student absences in public schools are also down slightly, at just over 10 percent compared to last week’s 12 percent, absenteeism for younger students up to grade 3 is over 14 percent. Several individual schools also have absenteeism rates of more than 20 percent.
Emily Follensbee School, a unique CBE program for students with complex needs, reported an absentee rate of 30.2 percent early this week, with some parents now choosing to keep their children home because of increased health risks.
“My son has been out of school for quite some time,” said Fuyo Watanabe, whose son is in 4th grade at the school and has complex medical needs that put him at high risk for serious outcomes from illness.
“I’m just at a loss as to what to do. . . because if he does get sick, there is a high probability that he will need hospital care.”
Watanabe says that by staying home, her son not only misses out on classroom learning, but essential physical and occupational therapies that he also receives from Emily Follensbee.
But while her son’s teachers still wore masks last year, Watanabe added, they are no longer wearing masks this fall, which is a big concern for her.
“This is a school where many of the students cannot mask (due to their health conditions), so you would think that at least teachers, who are able to mask, would choose to do so, to protect everyone. “
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange confirmed at a news conference in Calgary last week that school boards cannot implement their own mask mandates without an order from the chief medical officer of health, saying that masking has caused mental health challenges for some students.
And Premier Danielle Smith was adamant she won’t reinstate mask mandates in schools, instead focusing on getting more shipments of children’s medication to Alberta pharmacies.
But Watanabe said she can’t understand why there aren’t mask mandates for high-risk institutions like Emily Follensbee, especially when Alberta Children’s Hospital continues to be overwhelmed with patients.
“I watched waiting times at the children’s hospital very closely — it wasn’t long ago they were at 16 hours.
“They came down for a while when they moved some patients, but now I’m seeing waiting times going on again. So what happens?”
Watanabe said if her son ended up in the hospital, she would have to go with him and would not be able to continue working from home.
“People don’t realize that when a child ends up in hospital, a parent has to go with them. And then the family also loses that income.”
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CBE officials said that while no classrooms have yet moved to online learning, they are struggling to fill vacant teaching and support staff positions this week.
“The public health situation in schools continues to evolve on a daily basis,” said Bryan Weismiller, CBE spokesman.
“This is a challenging time for our school communities. We recognize the extraordinary efforts made by teachers, principals and all support staff who help keep students learning.”
Weismiller said schools make a wide range of decisions to ensure students continue to learn, including teachers covering additional classes, assigning principals, assistant principals and centralized teaching staff in classrooms, and hiring additional substitute teachers and support staff to cover staff absences. to cover
Some school events and activities must also be modified now, such as moving parent-teacher conferences and school board meetings online, or postponing some assemblies or extracurricular activities.
Like the CBE, the Calgary Catholic School District also now posts information about absentees on its website. But the district will only provide a list of schools that have a higher than 10 percent absenteeism rate, meaning they are breaking out.
On Tuesday, 48 out of 117, or 40 percent, of Catholic schools were facing absenteeism rates of 10 percent or higher. That’s up from last week, when 35 percent of schools were at 10 percent absenteeism or higher.