In a letter sent to parents by the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board’s (SMCDSB) Director of Education Frances Begley says “proactive planning” is in place should schools need to be closed due to staffing shortages.

“We must be proactive and prepared should we find ourselves in the position of having to close a school temporarily due to staff shortages,” Begley continues. “Out of an abundance of caution and preparation, we are asking our families to have a plan in place in the event that we have to temporarily close a school due to staffing shortages.”

She adds that a decision to close would be made on a school-by-school basis and would continue until the “appropriate staffing levels are achieved” with learning continued online.

“Across the province, we are witnessing school districts having to make the difficult decision to close schools due to staffing shortages caused by COVID-19,” her letter opens. “Although we continue to experience significant staffing pressures in schools across our board, we have managed to find the coverage we need to keep schools safely open.”

While pointing out that cases are on the rise in schools, Begley adds that another factor in this is, “our inability to deliver programming in a safe manner because of staffing shortages.”

Begley says that the province being in a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is not getting easier to handle. She says that data is based on the daily screening that is done by staff and students before they arrive. “Even if less students are attending school on a given day, we must maintain the integrity of our student cohorts and cannot collapse classes to have one educator provide instruction to students from multiple classrooms,” she writes. “There is not adequate supply staff to cover educator absences. Every day in our system jobs remain unfilled and classes are covered by non-classroom staff such as prep teachers, special education resource teachers, vice-principals and principals. We are watching the number of unfilled jobs increase and despite aggressive recruitment campaigns we are running out of options to fill staff absences – this includes reaching out to teacher colleges to bring in student teachers.”

“We know that this would be a hardship, especially for parents and guardians who have young children and have to leave their home to attend work,” Begley says at the end of her letter. “We encourage you to arrange back-up or alternative care in case this situation does arise. Our goal is to have all schools remain open and we are doing everything we can to mitigate this situation. We do want our families to be aware of our current staffing reality and prepared as much as possible.”

SMCDSB operates four schools in Cottage Country: Monsignor Michael O’Leary Catholic School, St. Dominic Catholic Secondary School in Bracebridge, St. Mary Catholic School in Huntsville, and St. Peter the Apostle Catholic School in Parry Sound.