Some Ontario school boards are warning parents that classes could be cancelled with little notice when in-person learning resumes Monday as they prepare for Omicron-related staffing shortages that have plagued other industries in recent weeks.

The highly contagious variant of COVID-19, which led the province to shift its schools to online learning after the winter holidays, could send many teachers and other education workers into self-isolation.

“Similar to other sectors in our community, schools may be impacted by staffing shortages,” a letter to parents from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board reads.

“We will make every effort to keep classes and schools open, but if we cannot operate safely, a class or school may have to pivot to remote learning until we can arrange for appropriate coverage. If this happens, we will make every effort to advise parents the night before.”

Northern Ontario’s Rainbow District School Board, meanwhile, told parents it may have to cancel classes day-of if there aren’t enough teachers.

The Toronto District School Board – the province’s largest – said it has several contingencies in place to avoid closures, such as adding more supply teachers to the roster and redeploying “central staff” to help out at schools. 

“As a last resort, it may be necessary to consider operational closures of classes and/or schools due to staffing shortages depending on local circumstances,” a letter from the TDSB to parents reads.

“In the future, it may become necessary to use the Ministry-supported strategy of one day per week of remote learning where students would not attend school in-person. This would allow the total number of available occasional teachers to cover a fewer number of schools.”

The province is also working to reduce absenteeism, shortening the required isolation time for those with COVID-19 from 10 days to five for people who are vaccinated against COVID-19, so long as their symptoms have dissipated. It is also allowing retired teachers to work up to 95 days a year with no financial penalty – up from 50.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2021.

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