Schools in Waterloo Region dealing with staff shortages due to COVID-19

Teachers’ unions in Waterloo Region are concerned about rising COVID-19 cases in the community as it’s leading to staff absences.

OECTA Waterloo’s President Patrick Etmanski said March was a record-breaking month with a large number of staff absences. He said when so many staff members are absent, there aren’t enough teachers to fill those roles.

“In certain cases we’ve seen 13 staff away in one day,” he told CTV News. “That’s impossible to cover off. So kids are going unserviced. Special [education] kids aren’t getting the EA support they need, and we have classrooms that are going without a teacher.”

Amy Brillinger Tuka is a kindergarten teacher at St. Anne’s Catholic School in Kitchener. She said staff are faced with difficult decisions daily when they develop symptoms.

“We are sometimes now choosing to come to our jobs feeling unwell and showing some of the symptoms.”

Brillinger Tuka said teachers often choose to come in even with symptoms because they don’t want it to be a burden on their colleagues, but also because they want to support their students.

“I don’t want my students to miss out on great opportunities and expand their learning, especially after two years of their journey being interrupted so many times,” she said.

The local OSSTF president said his fear is that illness and isolation will seriously impact the ability of schools to keep functioning.

“We are going to get to a point where they simply can’t open the schools because there’s simply aren’t enough adults to in the building to run it,” said Robert Gascho, the OSSTF President.

Zahid Butt, epidemiologist at the University of Waterloo, said something needs to be done and fast.

“They should have kept the mask mandate in schools and they should’ve kept the other public health measures such as cohorting,” he said.

The public school board announced on Friday that it will be sending daily COVID-19 case reports to parents. The Waterloo Catholic District School Board said principals are in daily contact with their superintendents about their individual situations and they will not be notifying parents of COVID-19 cases.

MORE: Driver absences cause more school bus cancellations in Waterloo Region

In an email statement to CTV News, local public health officials said they are aware of the increase in COVID-19 cases.

“We are experiencing increased spread of COVID-19 as seen by our indicators, including local wastewater monitoring,” it reads. “This is likely due to greater contacts between people following the lifting of restrictions and the Omicron BA.2 subvariant becoming dominant in Ontario and our community. As long as COVID-19 remains with us, we should expect intermittent waves. During periods of elevated risk, we should continue to use all the tools at our disposal as we go about our daily lives, including at school and in the workplace.”

The region recommends the following to help reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Get vaccinated and stay up to date with the recommended doses, including any booster dose(s) when eligible
  • Continue to wear a mask in indoor public settings, stay at home when sick, and ensure you are in well-ventilated indoor spaces and/or spend more time outdoors
  • Find out if you are eligible for COVID-19 antiviral treatment and where to get it

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