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Comox Valley school staff absences higher than usual in January

More student absences too but numbers have not been unusually higher
School District 71 faced higher than normal staff absences in January. File photo

With COVID numbers increasing dramatically over the winter, the virus took its toll on schools and staffing in the early weeks of the year.

At the January board of education meeting, assistant superintendent Geoff Manning updated the trustees about staff absences, saying School District 71 has been facing about 40 to 50 more absences per day than during the same period last year.

The includes all staff such as teachers, educational assistants (EA), clerical staff, maintenance staff and others. Human resources, he said, had been working on teacher on-call lists to fill gaps.

Manning said they had not been faced with any situations in which there was no teacher for a classroom, but there were some other positions affected.

“We have had some EA shortages,” he said.

Manning said they had been able to back-fill some EA positions with teaching staff, which has helped deal with some of the absences.

“We feel like we’ve been fortunate compared to some other districts on the Island and in the province,” he said.

He also noted the situation as of meeting time seemed to be improving, with teacher absences starting to drop.

Manning also highlighted the graduated return of students in January after the holiday break, saying the absentee rate for students due to illness was about four to five per cent, compared with a rate usually between one and five per cent.

“We are higher than normal, but we are not abnormally higher,” he said. “We feel like we are turning a corner. We hope we’re turning a corner.”

RELATED STORY: Comox Valley district clarifies school closure process

For the province as a whole, British Columbia Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said last month the union did not believe the current K-12 guides for COVID went far enough in making teachers feel safe. She cited particular issues such as supplies of N95 masks, the need for HVAC upgrades and an adequate supply for rapid tests.

The Ministry of Education announced on Feb. 1 it will provide further pandemic supports such as more rapid tests and support to some districts for improvements to ventilation systems. This followed changes at the end of December such as mask mandates to respond to the latest outbreak.

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