A public high school in northern British Columbia and an independent school in Surrey are closed due to high teacher and staff absences.
The temporary school closures are the first in the province since the start of the Omicron wave.
The British Columbia Ministry of Education said there were currently “functional closures” at Hazelton High School and Bibleway Christian Academy in Surrey due to understaffing.
A spokesperson said the ministry could not provide information on whether the absences were related to COVID-19, as it “does not have the authority to collect information on medical conditions or specific diseases “.
During the winter recess, provincial health officials ordered school districts to put in place plans in case a large number of employees were sick at the same time.
In northern British Columbia, Coast Mountains School District 82 informed parents of the closure of Hazelton High School on Tuesday morning, after some students had already arrived for class.
The school will be closed until at least Thursday, according to a letter signed by Superintendent of Schools Janet Meyer, “due to a staff shortage and an inability to cover staff shortages to provide the required standard. [of care] to ensure the safety and supervision of our students. “
Ginger Fuller, the district secretary-treasurer, said officials will meet on Wednesday to decide when to reopen Hazelton Secondary to regular classes.
She said due to privacy concerns, she could only confirm that the shutdown was the result of illness. The school district did not say whether the absences were due specifically to COVID-19.
The high school, about 400 kilometers west of Prince George, serves a number of small communities. It has just over 380 students and around 30 teachers and staff.
Meyer said the school district has the power to temporarily shut down a school to ensure safety.
Health officials may also recommend school closures based on absenteeism rates in a school or community.
A spokesperson for Northern Health said health officials played no role in the closure of Hazelton Secondary.
Speaking to CBC North Dawn Ahead of the announcement of the Hazelton Secondary closure, Joslyn Bagg, president of the Terrace District Teachers Union, said the prospect of teacher absences linked to COVID-19 was magnified by a severe teacher shortage in the region.
“All of us, as teachers, are always ready to move mountains … and to be as ready as possible.”
Bibleway Christian Academy school officials were unavailable for comment.
Student attendance levels to monitor
Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said school administration officials, including principals, were making decisions about closing in-person classes and moving to temporary online education.
“Local staff in our districts and everyone in our education system are working very, very hard to do everything in our power to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 so that we can continue to keep children connected to the world. ‘in-person learning,’ Whiteside said in an interview.
Whiteside said the ministry will monitor student attendance levels over the next few days and monitor the number of teachers and staff as schools grapple with the challenges of the Omicron variant.
“We don’t have a business [attendance] numbers for now, ”she said.
“We have anecdotal reports from different parts of the province which indicate that there is indeed somewhat lower attendance than would be normal for the week, but nothing dramatic and nothing firm at this time.”