Rocky View Schools (RVS) reported a nine per cent absentee rate among its staff on Jan. 11, when many substitute teachers were called in to help fill a workforce gap caused by 129 absences out of 1,412 teaching staff during the first week of classes.
According to RVS superintendent Greg Luterbach, staffing shortages as a consequence of the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic are impacting all sectors, and the school division similarly anticipated the challenge posed by the ongoing surge in cases.
He said RVS has been preparing on multiple fronts for a staffing shortfall, which could be expected following the fast-moving spread of the Omicron variant throughout the province in recent weeks.
“We are committed to doing what we can to keep our schools and classes open for students to learn in person,” he said in an email statement.
“We’re constantly hiring additional substitute teachers, putting professional learning that requires coverage on hold, and exploring other options to address shortages to place qualified staff in classrooms as needed.”
He said after substitute teachers had filled the absences of many instructors, the division was required to provide additional coverage for 24 teachers with school-based staff.
“We’re also prepared to move students very quickly temporarily to at-home online learning,” he said in the same statement. “With our students’ best interest at heart, any decision to move a class or grade to at-home online learning will be made carefully and out of necessity."
The superintendent said the steps taken to keep students in classrooms are supplemented by many health protocols the division has implemented over the past months to help curb the spread of the virus.
In early October, the division announced a mandatory policy requiring all staff, volunteers and visitors to RVS facilities to either provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or undergo a weekly rapid testing regimen.
According to RVS, as of Dec. 15, 98.1 per cent had complied with the division’s administrative procedure, providing either proof of immunization through a required attestation form, or indicating they will engage in rapid testing which began Jan. 3.
A letter on the division’s website thanked the majority of staff who complied.
“[It] was put in place in response to the government’s request of school jurisdictions and in support of our commitment to measures that reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in our schools,” the letter said.
The letter said of the 2,880 active employees in the division, 2,721 are fully immunized – representing 94.5 per cent of current employees.
Meanwhile, 3.5 per cent or 103 staff reported they will routinely provide a negative rapid test.
Fifteen RVS staff are being placed on unpaid leave as they are not intending to comply with the administrative procedure or have not completed an attestation form.
Three individuals have resigned, and 38 substitute teachers or casual support staff are deactivated from working after the winter break after they declined to comply with the procedure.
Regarding potential school-bus shortages, following the resignation or leave of contract employees, Luterbach said RVS’ contractors were able to provide service for all bus routes during the first few days of school.
He said any late buses were due to mechanical breakdowns and traffic, which is to be expected during the winter months.
"The driver shortages have not materialized yet, although, as with most employers, this will likely be a challenge as the pandemic evolves," he said.
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