Some Saskatchewan schools shuffle staff around as COVID-19 increases absences

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Some Saskatchewan schools shuffle staff around as COVID-19 increases absenteeism
WATCH: The Omicron surge is affecting learning Saskatchewan-wide, with one school moving its classes online – Jan 12, 2022

Some Saskatchewan schools are having to shuffle staff into new positions to cope with increased absences driven by COVID-19.

“Thanks to the continued creativity and flexibility of our staff, we are still in a position to keep all our schools staffed with enough adults to continue with the school day,” said Regina Catholic Schools spokesperson Twylla West.

“For example, a principal might cover a class, a Learning Catalyst Teacher may pause their work to teach a class, etc.”

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Saskatchewan School Boards Association president Shawn Davidson said that while he does not know how widespread the issue is, it’s a worry he’s heard from members as Omicron leaves its mark on Saskatchewan.

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“The key concerns will be around absenteeism,” he said.

“Our organization and our members continue to maintain that the best learning takes place when we have students in our classrooms, in our buildings and actively learning, and when that becomes impossible, then the challenges that go with that to students’ education come to fruition.”

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Saskatchewan Teachers Federation president Patrick Maze worried about the implications that such staff shuffling could have for students, especially those with special learning needs.

“When you (have) English as a second language teachers, when you have learning assistance teachers, when they’re pulled out of their assignments, it’s not making the best use of those teachers’ skills and the students they work with aren’t getting the extra work they need, the attention they need,” Maze said.

The trend comes as the Good Spirit School Division announces Yorkton Regional High School is temporarily moving all classes online due to a “large number” of COVID-19 cases. Global News reached out to the division about how its staff members and teachers have so far been impacted by COVID-19 this semester but has not yet heard back.

Regina Public Schools has confirmed that two classes within its schools have also moved online.

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Global News asked several other school divisions how COVID-19 is impacting students and staff.

The Chinook School Division indicated that since Jan. 3, 89 cases have been reported in 16 of its 29 schools.

Regina Catholic Schools has reported 230 cases since classes resumed.

The Regina public school division did not provide a specific number of reported cases but a spokesperson said it’s dealing with the highest number of schools with reported cases since the pandemic began.

“We are currently not reporting case numbers, only schools that have had cases reported to them,” Regina Public Schools Communications Director Terry Lazarou.

“These numbers are not as reliable as they have been previously. Please keep in mind that before December, cases were announced and provided by the Saskatchewan Health Authority and, currently, we are relying on parent/guardian/student and staff self-reporting, which may be a little less predictable.”

Twylla West of Regina Catholic Schools added that the burden of case reporting and contact tracing “is in addition to our usual work, and certainly take a lot of time and resources.”

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Davidson said the SSBA has heard concerns from school divisions about the added workload. He said he’s even heard reports of divisions hiring extra staff to lessen the impact of the increased workload on existing staff and teachers.

“It is taxing for our admin staff to be able to get all that work done. We really are educators. That’s our area of expertise and we feel this is certainly a foray into the work of health so that is challenging,” he said.

“Parents can be confident that school divisions are still working with their health officials to ensure the safety of students and staff.”

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