Schools continue to struggle with high absenteeism and staff shortages – Calgary Herald | Team Cansler

Prime Minister Danielle Smith has insisted she will not reintroduce mask mandates in schools

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Absence rates in Calgary schools remain high as officials scramble to fill hundreds of vacant classroom teaching and support staff positions.

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As early as Tuesday, up to 165 teaching and 61 support staff positions were vacant by the Calgary Board of Education, a slight decrease from Monday when 184 teaching and 47 support staff positions were vacant.

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And while student absenteeism in public schools is down slightly, at just over 10 percent compared to last week’s 12 percent, absenteeism for younger students through third grade is more than 14 percent. Also, several individual schools have high levels of absenteeism, many well over 20 percent.

Emily Follensbee School, a unique CBE program for students with complex needs, reported an absenteeism rate of 30.2 percent earlier this week, with some parents now choosing to keep their children at home due to increased health risks.

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“My son hasn’t been to school for a long time,” said Fuyo Watanabe, whose son is in the fourth grade of school and has complex medical needs that put him at high risk of serious illnesses.

“I just don’t know what to do … because if he gets sick, there’s a very good chance he’ll need hospital treatment.”

Watanabe says that by staying at home, her son not only misses out on classroom study, but also important physical and occupational therapy, which he also receives from Emily Follensbee.

But while her son’s teachers were masked last year, Watanabe added, they’re not masking this fall, which worries her deeply.

“This is a school where many students (because of their health) cannot mask, so you would think that at least teachers who can mask would do so to protect everyone.”

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Emiko, 6, Ryan, 8, and mother Fuyo Watanabe (R) are seen in a recent family photo.  Your son is very dependent on care, with severe allergies.  Your doctor says he needs a HEPA filter in the classroom.
Emiko, 6, Ryan, 8, and mother Fuyo Watanabe (R) are seen in a recent family photo. Your son is very dependent on care, with severe allergies. Your doctor says he needs a HEPA filter in the classroom. Photo for family photo

Last week, Secretary of Education Adriana LaGrange confirmed at a news conference in Calgary that school boards cannot implement their own mask mandates without an order from the chief medical officer of health, adding that masking has led to mental health problems in some students.

And Prime Minister Danielle Smith has insisted she will not reintroduce mask mandates in schools, instead focusing on getting more supplies of children’s medicines at pharmacies in Alberta.

But Watanabe said she couldn’t understand why there shouldn’t be a mask requirement for high-risk facilities like Emily Follensbee, especially when Alberta Children’s Hospital is still overwhelmed with patients.

“I’ve been watching the waiting times at the children’s hospital very closely, not long ago they were at 4 p.m.

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“They went back for a while as they transferred some patients but now I see wait times increasing again. So what happens?

Watanabe explained that if her son ended up in the hospital, she would have to go with him and couldn’t continue working from home.

“People don’t realize that if a child ends up in the hospital, a parent has to come with them. And then the family also loses this income.”

CBE officials admit that while no classrooms have yet switched to online learning, they are struggling to fill vacant teaching and support staff positions this week.

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“The public health situation in schools is evolving every day,” said CBE spokesman Bryan Weismiller.

“It is a challenging time for our school communities. We recognize the extraordinary efforts of teachers, school leaders and all support staff who help ensure students continue learning.”

Weismiller said schools are making a wide range of decisions to ensure students continue learning, including teachers covering additional classes, assigning principals, deputy principals and centralized teaching staff to classrooms, and still trying to hire additional substitute teachers and support staff to cover staff absences.

Also, some school events and activities now need to be changed, e.g. For example, moving parent-teacher conferences and school board meetings online, or moving some gatherings or extracurricular activities.

Like the CBE, the Calgary Catholic School District now posts absence information on its website. However, the district will only provide a list of schools that have an absentee rate greater than 10 percent, meaning they are in the outbreak.

As of Tuesday, 48 out of 117, or 40 percent, of Catholic schools had absenteeism rates of 10 percent or more. That’s an increase from last week’s numbers, when 35 percent of schools had 10 percent absenteeism or more.

eferguson@postmedia.com

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