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Simcoe Muskoka Catholic school closures possible due to COVID-19 staffing shortages

The school board's education director said parents and guardians should have a plan in place in case a school must temporarily close due to staffing issues. EPA file

The Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board is warning of the possibility of school closures due to staffing shortages amid the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter addressed to staff and families Sunday, the school board’s education director said parents and guardians should have a plan in place in case a school must temporarily close due to staffing issues.

Read more: Coronavirus: 172 new COVID-19 cases, 1 additional death confirmed in Simcoe Muskoka

“A decision to close would be made on a school by school basis and would be temporary until appropriate staffing levels are achieved,” Frances Bagley, the board’s education director, said in Sunday’s letter.

“Learning would continue for students at home using their virtual learning environment.”

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Since teachers returned to the classroom in February, Ontario’s Ministry of Education has strengthened the criteria for the daily COVID-19 self-assessment tool, according to Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) spokesperson Pauline Stevenson.

“It’s a very strict process that was put in place for good reason, but it’s resulted in staff having to stay home even if they’ve had one symptom of COVID-19, so that could be a runny nose or a headache,” Stevenson said.

“In addition to that, there’s more staff that are having to quarantine.”

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Last week, Stevenson said the school board had almost 100 staff members in quarantine and another 30 who were isolating while waiting for their COVID-19 test results.

But even when the school board tries to hire more teachers, Stevenson said it’s difficult to fill the vacancies.

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“Every day, positions become open and nobody takes them,” she added. “There’s probably a number of reasons we can speculate why supply teachers don’t want to go into schools, but one can assume it’s probably, very directly related to COVID-19.”

In the letter, Bagley said classes are covered by non-classroom staff every day, including prep teachers, special education resource teachers, principals and vice-principals.

Read more: What should be done with leftover vaccines at Ontario clinics? Experts push for a plan

“We are watching the number of unfilled jobs increase and despite aggressive recruitment campaigns, we are running out of options,” the letter read.

“This includes reaching out to teacher colleges to bring in student teachers.”

Bagley said the staffing situation isn’t related to the number of COVID-19 cases in a school but the board’s inability to deliver programming safely due to staffing shortages.

“Our goal is to have all schools remain open and we are doing everything we can to mitigate this situation,” Bagley added.

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