School district scrambling to find teachers for classrooms

Illness, absences taking their toll


Public schools in Houston and Smithers were running low on substitute teachers last week in the effort to keep classes running amid high rates of absenteeism among staff members.

While the student absentee rate hovered in the 20 per cent range, a rate School District 54 school superintendent Mike McDiarmid said was normal in a flu season, staff absences were up and beyond what would be normal for this time of year.

“At this point, we are running regular programming with a very depleted replacement teacher and support staff list,” he said late last week.

Principals also found themselves in classrooms as did teachers whose regular assignments did not require them to be in classrooms.

Schools opened fully Jan. 10 following an extended Christmas break meant to have more days without full attendance to reduce opportunities for the COVID-19 virus to spread.

Students of essential workers and those requiring extra help were welcomed back as of Jan. 4 although there was no classroom instruction.

The additional closure days also gave teachers and staffers time to put in place measures to limit contact.

That included more spacing between desks.

And when full classes did resume, breaks were staggered and large group activities were placed on hold.

Last week also saw Dr. Bonnie Henry issue a public health order providing a health authority’s medical health officers with the power to have school districts require their employees to divulge their vaccination status.

The order’s intent is that school districts are not making that requirement directly and instead ask the medical health officer to do it on their behalf.

“The information will be collected if the medical health officer in consultation with a school district, makes a decision that they want to collect and understand that information,” said Northern Health Authority spokesperson Eryn Collins Jan. 19.

“To date, Northern Health medical health officers hare not made any directives under the order, and we’ll continue to work with school districts to support their decisions around the vaccination status of school staff,” she added.

There has been no request as of late last week, McDiarmid confirmed.

“Higher rates [of absence and illness] that appear to be out of step with normal patterns will be reported to Northern Health in case they want to respond to community rates of illness,” he said.

McDiarmid did add that not all absences are due to an illness.