Peterborough area schools mobilizing other staff to substitute for absent teachers as COVID-19 continues to take toll

Principals are sometimes required to teach in Peterborough public schools and retired principals are being called in to substitute for absent teachers as cases continue to spike in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board saw its staff absence rate soar to a high of 550 (of 4,974 employees across the board’s coverage area, which includes Peterborough city and county).

However, board chair Diane Lloyd noted in an emailed statement to The Examiner on Thursday that the figure of 550 is the “initial starting point” of staff absences, “before occasional staff are mobilized to fill in these jobs.”

Yet 30 teacher jobs still went unfilled across the board on Thursday, said Dave Warda, a teacher and president of District 14 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

When jobs go unfilled for the day, Lloyd said schools may have a principal or non-classroom teacher (a resource teacher, for example) cover for the absence.

Under “exceptional circumstances” the board might also combine two classes, disperse students to a variety of classes for the day, use student teachers or have retired principals come in, Lloyd stated.

The board also has “permanent rovers” placed in the schools of highest need every day, Lloyd added.

“We are also in the process of hiring uncertified staff across job categories to fill in on an emergency basis,” she further says in her email.

Late in March, the Ontario government removed the requirement for people to wear masks in most public settings – including schools.

On Friday the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association noted that teacher and education worker absences are now going unfilled “at an unprecedented rate” and that the number of children being admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms is spiking.

OECTA called on the Ontario government to reinstate the masking mandate in Ontario classes “to make our schools safe and to keep them open.”

In Peterborough, the rate of absent students and teachers combined is also high in many schools: Kawartha Heights Public School was at 50 per cent as of Thursday while many schools had absences of 15 to 25 per cent.

When the absentee rate in a 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 who attend that 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 on Wednesday, though he did not name the schools.

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