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Mission schools left with fewer teachers, students due to flu and COVID spikes

Teachers and students with extended absences are causing strain on the school system
Angus Wilson is Mission’s superintendent of schools. / File Photo

Mission schools are feeling the side effects of flu season.

With respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, and the flu spiking across the province, classrooms are feeling the strain. The increase in sickness among students and teachers is causing problems for schools that are already short-staffed, says School District 75 Superintendent Angus Wilson.

“It’s definitely a stress on the system,” he said. “It also means principals and vice principals are covering classes.”

At Hillside Traditional Academy, 25 per cent of the student population missed school this week — which meets the 20 per cent threshold for the district to contact Fraser Health. Hillside principal Kevin Watrin says it’s reminiscent of the craziness of Omicron.

“I was substituting this week and had some lessons I had to teach. With eight of the 22 kids away, I questioned ‘should I still teach this lesson?’”

“Prior to COVID, if I ever covered a class that would be shocking,” Mission Secondary principal Jim Pearce said. “Through the past few years, administrators have covered hundreds of classes because we’ve been short of teachers on call.”

Last Wednesday (Nov. 16) at Mission Secondary School, 22 staff and 250 students were absent in a student body of almost 1,300. Pearce says that as a bigger school, Mission Secondary is more well-equipped to deal with large numbers of absences.

However, the length of absences creates more strain on both students and teachers. A lack of continuity for substitutes and disjointed learning occurs because different teachers are filling in from day to day, Pearce says.

“The loss of learning for the students increases because they’re not out one or two days — they’re out four or five days because COVID or the flu is much stronger. It’s certainly a strain on the system because of the time people are off.”

With a large number of students missing from particular classes, it’s challenging for teachers to know whether or not to move forward with their lessons and requires them to change how and what they’re teaching. Pearce says there’s been a higher demand for covering classes since Nov. 7, harkening back to the worst days of COVID. However, most teachers are carrying on with lessons.

Information provided by Wilson indicates that other schools in the district are also feeling the effects in the past week and month. Hatzic Elementary had as many as 90 kids out on day — 60 more absences than their average day, with between three and six staff missing. Student absences are “up notably” at ESR Elementary, while Christine Morrison Elementary had 18 per cent of students missing and Stave Falls Elementary 15 per cent. Windebank Elementary has a slight increase in staff absences with normal student numbers, while Albert McMahon Elementary is “okay” but had more students with flu-like symptoms.

“It goes in cycles – if Hatzic is hit hard, it will subside in a week or two, and by then West Heights will be enjoying the bug,” Wilson said.

Both Pearce and Watrin praised the hard work and versatility in covering classes while shorthanded.

“I’m really proud of my staff and their ability to pull together in less than ideal circumstances,” Watrin said. “Teachers are going outside their normal areas to fill in the gaps. It’s quite taxing but everyone seems to make it work and do what’s best for the kids. This is not an issue that is unique to Mission. It’s a worldwide thing.”

So far, this year flu season hasn’t been catastrophic but absences are being monitored, Wilson says.

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