Despite a challenging start to the school year, Central Okanagan School District (SD 23) superintendent Kevin Kaardal said the district is managing.
A seasonal Teachers Teaching on Call (TTOC) shortage due to the cold and flu season has been exacerbated by about 15 to 20 per cent on some days due to COVID-19 related absences, according to Kaardal, but it’s not a severe deficiency and nothing that they can’t handle.
Usually, teachers are reassigned and asked to cover a class during their preparation time.
“Anticipating increased anxiety, rising COVID-19 numbers and cold and flu season, the senior team made a decision that we would share the burden of coverage so that more teachers could keep their preparation periods,” he said.
Kaardal added that in general, they’ve heard positive feedback from teachers. Despite the fear and anxiety that the pandemic has brought, he said teachers are still grateful to be able to offer in-person lessons instead of having to do it online.
“They’re being courageous and are doing their best despite some of the worries and anxieties they may have,” he said.
But the Central Okanagan Teachers’ Association (COTA) president Susan Bauhart said she has heard otherwise.
“With every exposure, and the more they happen, it raises concern in schools,” she said.
“Mind you, many schools haven’t had exposures, but the longer (the pandemic) goes on and the more exposures happen, the more teachers are going to get anxious.”
Bauhart said SD23 has done well in managing teacher absences, but it does come at a cost to some students who may need extra help, especially when teachers get reassigned to instruct other classes. In order to cater to those students and to alleviate the burden on staff, Kaardal said they have hired additional new teachers who have just graduated from UBC Okanagan.
As far as keeping staff and students safe, Bauhart said SD23 is doing what is required of them by Interior Health and the province, including having individuals, as well as whole cohorts, isolate to keep transmissions low once Interior Health identifies an exposure.
“The school safety plan has all been approved. Do I think that more could be done? Yes.”
“Everything that is required of the district to be done is being done. But I still do have concerns,” she said.
Bauhart said some restrictions on the number of people in a business, for example, doesn’t quite apply to a school setting, where students are together in one room for a period of time.
Kaardal said he’s confident SD23 schools are safe, despite confirmed cases in 14 schools out of 43 in the district.
“Schools are safe because of the layered safety measures that are in place to reduce the spread of the virus,” he said.
“The most important measure we can take is to ensure our behaviour meets the health orders and recommendations that Dr. Bonnie Henry has outlined.”