Respiratory viruses are causing higher than normal absentee rates in Island schools, education officials say.
Norbert Carpenter, executive director of the Public Schools Branch, said in the last five-day period, student absenteeism was above 13 per cent. Normally, numbers are closer to the range of eight to 10 per cent.
"Everyone has [their] work cut out for them during the season when there's lots of virus on the go," he said. "But of course, it's concerning, it's concerning for the education of our students, it's concerning for our employees, too, because we have to have a healthy employee group."
Schools are now sending home rapid COVID-19 tests, but it's not mandatory to use them, and public health officials have said there is no plan to bring back the mask mandate at this time.
However, there is growing concern things could get worse, with COVID-19, the flu, and RSV all circulating this fall.
At Spring Park Elementary School on Wednesday, about 14 per cent of students and more than 20 per cent of staff were out sick.
Principal Terry MacIsaac watched those numbers climb over the last few weeks.
"It shifts your focus sometimes early in the morning, when you start to receive notices of not only teachers home sick, or their child is sick, or a substitute cancelling because a substitute is now sick.... We're seeing more from the respiratory side. Last year we didn't seem to get hit as bad as this."
If a teacher had half their class out … then it's very difficult to move on in the curriculum, because you'd have to re-teach that regardless. — Terry MacIsaac. principal of Spring Park Elementary School
Carpenter said thanks to a major effort over the summer to recruit more substitutes, staffing hasn't reached a critical stage yet.
"We feel like things are going well. It's just that unknown…. If things get worse, we may be in a situation where more plans have to be put in place to cover off absences."
MacIsaac said there's also the impact on learning, when a lot of students are out sick.
"If a teacher had half their class out … then it's very difficult to move on in the curriculum, because you'd have to re-teach that regardless. People aren't there, they haven't heard it. So somehow that would have to be made up."