There’s a “crisis brewing,” says one local union activist and teacher, as the number of absent teachers across the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board surged to a high of 550 on Thursday as cases continue to spike in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Dave Warda, a teacher and president of District 14 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said late Thursday that the rate of absent teachers has been high for a week.
But he said it reached its pinnacle of 550 teachers on Thursday (the public board has about 4,974 employees across its large geographical area, which includes Peterborough).
Meanwhile the rate of absent students and teachers combined is also high in many schools: for example on Thursday, Kawartha Heights Public School was at 49 per cent for a second day in a row, up from 43 per cent on Tuesday.
Queen Elizabeth Public School was at 31 per cent absenteeism Thursday for a second day in a row, down from 42 per cent on Tuesday.
Many other local schools have lower absenteeism rates this week – Edmison Heights Public School had 13.3 per cent of students and staff absent on Thursday, for example, and Kenner Collegiate had 15.9 per cent of students and teachers absent.
Public board chair Diane Lloyd said she will be able to supply comment soon on the trend; she declined to comment about it on the spot on Thursday night, when reached by The Examiner.
Late in March, the Ontario government removed the requirement for people to wear masks in most public settings – including schools.
When the absentee rate in school reaches 30 per cent and there are also other factors indicating school spread of COVID-19 – rapid antigen test data, for example – Peterborough Public Health may recommend that unvaccinated students in a particular school stay home for five days.
That has happened in two local schools over the last week, said medical officer of health Dr. Thomas Piggott in a media briefing on Wednesday. He did not name the schools.
Warda said Thursday absenteeism in schools has increased since then – and that it’s been quite high for about a week.
He also said that he thinks the rate of absent students is higher than data sets show, since some students are unwell with COVID symptoms at home are logging onto school virtually – and they are not counted in the absentee rates.
“So I think it’s a bit of an undercounting as well,” he said.
Meanwhile Peterborough Regional Health Center reported having 29 admitted patients with the virus on Thursday, up from 24 on Wednesday.