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New Westminster school district avoids functional closures – so far

Teacher and support staff absences have been about double the usual level, but the district says there are signs the absences may be levelling off
Teacher and student in COVID classroom
Staff absences have been high in New Westminster schools in the face of Omicron, but the school district has so far managed to avoid functional closures.

The New Westminster school district hasn’t yet had to resort to closing schools in the face of Omicron.

The district has so far managed to avoid any “functional closures” – the B.C. government’s term for the temporary closure of a school due to staff shortages. All school districts in the province, including New West, made plans for the possibility of such closures when school resumed for the new year in the midst of surging COVID-19 case counts around B.C.

Robert Weston, School District 40’s executive director of human resources, reported at the Jan. 25 school board meeting that the district has been experiencing “higher than average” absences of both teachers and support staff – at about double the usual level.

But he said the district has done its best to get ahead of the challenge by booking all its priority teachers-on-call and casual education assistants to have “maximum staff” available every day.

District staff have also been filling in for each other as required, with principals, vice-principals and non-enrolling teachers (such as teacher-librarians and resource teachers) taking over other duties as needed.

“We are managing, on a day-to-day basis, to keep staffing at levels that are necessary,” he said.

In a followup email to the Record, Weston said the district has been able to manage without functional closures thanks to the efforts of staff around the district.

“Our staff are working exceptionally hard to support each other and fill in where needed,” he said.

And Weston said there’s reason to be optimistic, since it seems absence levels may be declining.

“What we’ve seen over the last week is, while staff absences remain high as people are following the guidance and protocols in place, that our absentee rates have levelled off from the growth we had been tracking earlier this month,” he said.

What would happen if my child's school closes?

New Westminster school district superintendent Karim Hachlaf has laid out the process the district will follow in the event of a functional closure. Check out a Q&A here.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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