Public School Board says school closures possible because of staff shortages

Upper Canada District School Board

The Upper Canada District School Board warns it may have to close some schools over the course of the year because of staffing shortages related to COVID-19. 

In a memo to parents this week, Stephen Sliwa, Director of Education at UCDSB, said staffing challenges have presented themselves because "the number of staff members that are away from school with COVID-19-like symptoms, awaiting test results and/or self-isolating is increasing." 

While the problem is not unique to UCDSB, similar shortages are being reported across the province, Sliwa said the past week has seen the issue worsen, with over 500 fill-in staff needed to fill positions left vacant because of absences that are, in many cases, for 14 days. 

"Finding staff to fill those positions is becoming increasingly difficult and we often have over 150 positions that go unfilled for the day, leaving schools short staffed," Sliwa said. 

Recruitment and hiring work is underway, Sliwa said, with retired staff being asked to return and some board staff being used when possible, but he anticipates some schools may have last second closures for the rest of 2020 as they continue to deal with the issue. 

He said classes within schools may be cancelled "if we are unable to have adequate staff in our schools to supervise our students," and added that in extreme cases, schools may have to close with very little notice for parents, sometimes at 6 a.m. on the day of the cancellation. 

"We ask that parents/guardians begin to consider their plans for alternative child care so that they are prepared should this happen."

The province changed its guidelines Thursday for students and other staff attending school to try and clarify confusion for parents and ease pressure on testing sites across the province.

The government said children with 'low-risk' symptoms like a runny nose or headache can now return to school or daycare after 24 hours -- if they have just one symptom and their condition improves. Those with two or more symptoms or those with a fever or cough are still being advised to stay home until a doctor is consulted or the child tests negative for COVID-19.