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Ontario principals want plan for staff absence contingencies during Omicron wave

Written by on January 12, 2022

TORONTO — Ontario principals want a plan to address virus-related staff absences ahead of the planned return to in-person classes next week. 

A statement today from groups representing principals and vice-principals in Ontario schools says they want learning to resume in-person on Monday.

But they say they want clear direction from the government about what to do when classes or schools need to close because too many staff are off work due to COVID-19 infections or exposures. 

Premier Doug Ford said, when announcing the move to virtual learning on Jan. 3, that staff absences that would likely be driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant were a factor in the decision. 

Virus-related absences are also affecting workforces in other essential sectors like hospitals and long-term care.

In their letter, the principals’ groups also highlight the need to prioritize vaccinations for students — especially children aged five to 11 who became eligible late last year.

Other highlighted issues included lunchtime risks when students eat together without wearing masks and the need for greater supply of virus tests. 

The groups also asked for guidance on how principals can meet legal obligations to report suspected communicable diseases in schools now that testing and reporting of virus cases has been reduced.

“We look forward to welcoming students and staff back to school,” the letter said. “In an effort to do so as safely as possible, these issues, particularly staff absences, need to be addressed immediately.”

The letter came ahead of a planned news conference with Education Minister Stephen Lecce about preparations for the return to school.

Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, was also scheduled to speak at the minister’s first press conference since before the temporary remote schooling plan was announced.

Online learning was implemented along with other restrictions on businesses and hospitals to help preserve health resources that have been under growing strain as the Omicron variant infects people at record levels.

The government said schools would run remotely until at least Jan. 17, depending on health indicators at the time.

Data on hospitalizations remained dire on Wednesday, days after Ford’s office confirmed that schools would resume next Monday with no rationale explaining the decision. 

There were 3,448 people in hospital with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, including 505 people in intensive care, up from 3,220 patients in hospital the previous day and 477 people in intensive care.

There were 46 new deaths reported due to the virus, and 9,783 new COVID-19 cases, though Public Health Ontario has noted that the total number is likely higher due to testing policy changes. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2022. 

The Canadian Press