Sask. teachers dealing with 'chaos' as Omicron spreads through schools

Published Jan. 13, 2022 6:33 p.m. ET
Updated Jan. 13, 2022 7:56 p.m. ET

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The Omicron COVID-19 variant has arrived in Saskatchewan schools, with as many as 40 outbreaks and more than 1,000 cases across the province.

On Wednesday, Saskatoon Public Schools (SPS) sent a letter to parents and guardians notifying them of interruptions in classes due to staffing shortages and its plans to redeploy staff to fill the gaps.

“If several cases are reported in the classroom, the class may be moved to remote learning for a temporary period of time,” director of education Shane Skjerven told CTV News.

“In our high schools, a specific class may be cancelled for the day if we can't get a substitute teacher assigned to that class. Also, there may be interruptions to bus and taxi service due to driver absences. And lastly, you know, families who receive one to one support from an educational assistant for their child, receiving support, may be asked to keep their child at home for a day if a substitute, EA, or service cannot be provided and that would be a last resort.”

Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab has said it's important to maintain in-class learning as much as possible while accepting some high transmission.

Skjerven said SPS has had 439 cases among staff and students, and 13 classes in the school division have switched to online learning.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic School division spokesperson Derrick Kunz said in an email that the division is seeing increases in the number of staff who are ill, isolating, or taking care of ill or isolating children.

“So far, we’re able to reallocate staff within any given school to cover for absences that cannot be filled with substitutes. That might mean the level of specialized services for students (like extra literacy supports) is reduced. We’re not there yet, but realistically, we may get to a point where we need to reassign staff or shift resources more broadly.”

Kunz says letters are sent to parents in the cohort or class when a positive case is identified, but that’s becoming increasingly difficult with rapid antigen tests.

“We have no way of knowing the source of the positive test or of verifying the information we are given,” he said. “We have 10 classrooms that have temporarily switched to online learning.”

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Patrick Maze calls the situation frustrating.

“Unfortunately, government chose not to act and we're the ones paying the price. It's the teachers and principals and educational assistants and all the in-school workers who are dealing with this chaos that I feel worst about.”

Maze says the most vulnerable students end up being affected first, as specialized teachers get pulled into regular classrooms.

Ministry of Education executive director of programs Kevin Gabel says school divisions have done an excellent job under extraordinary circumstances.

“The Government of Saskatchewan believes it's important to resume in-class learning as normally and safely as possible, and that the school divisions will continue to work with our local medical health officers in responding to any public health risks in the school settings,” he said.

“We are doing our very best to ensure that we have substitute teachers and TA’s in place, although that is a challenge, it continues to be a challenge,” said Skjerven.

“All of our students and staff have access to triple-layer medical-grade masks, every single day we have hand sanitizer, we teach hand hygiene, we're working very hard as much as we can on cohorting students, although it's a challenge, but we're doing that so I think that's the best we can do at this point in time.”

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