WEYBURN – The overall goal is for in-person learning to continue in Southeast Cornerstone schools, but a combination of staffing and sickness levels will force some classes or even schools to go remote, said education director Lynn Little on Wednesday, with some classes about to start remote learning.
A telling factor that will be the difference for staying open is the increase in numbers of students and staff who test positive for COVID.
Little reported that between Jan. 3 and 18, there were 633 individuals who tested positive (including 544 students and 89 staff), and by 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, that number had increased to 678 individuals.
“All schools except for one have had people test positive, and some have had many more,” said Little, noting that the Weyburn Comprehensive was particularly high, with a meeting set for Wednesday evening to discuss the situation.
Some schools have had up to 40 per cent absenteeism, she noted, other than when there was a winter storm on Jan. 18.
Some classes within schools have gone to remote learning for two-week periods, including a Grade 3 class at Legacy Park, and Grades 7-9 at 33 Central in Fillmore.
According to the public health order, which Cornerstone is adhering to, there are differences between what vaccinated and unvaccinated students need to do, said Little, noting that unvaccinated students cannot attend school if they are a close contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 in their household. All students must stay home and self-isolate if they test positive. Any student who has either tested positive or is a non-vaccinated close contact may not participate in extra-curricular activities.
As of Jan. 18, 69 teachers have had to quarantine for a total of 276 days away from class, and 14 bus drivers for a total of 99 days off.
“What we’re struggling with is finding enough substitute teachers. That is becoming more and more of an issue,” said Little, noting this is also true for bus drivers.
“It’s very challenging,” she added, noting this also has affected the number of caretakers. The school division has had discussions with the two unions involved to move personnel around, but it may become necessary to close a facility if they can’t find enough caretakers who can clean and sanitize the facility.
“Moving to remote learning is a matter of the level of infections and the operations, as in, do we have the staff to continue operations?” she said. “We’re working hard to maintain in-person learning, but we need to be prepared to move to remote learning. It’ll be dependent on the circumstances, driven by the numbers of staff. We do try to give as much heads-up as we can, but it’s very difficult sometimes.”
Little asked that the families and students have patience and understanding about the situation, and to cooperate when certain measures are needed.
Trustee Melanie Sorensen noted a parent made a comment to her about the number of notices she gets about close contacts with other students, and she replied, “Just imagine the number of notices that the school has to be putting out.”
“We really feel it’s important, families have the right to know if there’s been exposure in their classroom, so we’ve been working to get that information out to parents,” said Little.
Board chair Audrey Trombley noted that with the number of those who have reported positive tests, there are probably many others who didn’t test or who didn’t report test results.
Little noted that the new policy for extra-curricular activities, requiring testing before getting in the vehicle to travel, has resulted in some positive test results, and said, “This will help keep those activities open, as they’re an important piece of the education process.”