Colds and flu mean Yukon classrooms are sometimes only half full, union says
Mark Chandler and his partner have enough to juggle their full-time jobs and their three young children. Add a little disease into the mix and things get even more complicated.
« It just adds another ball to juggle, » Chandler said.
The Whitehorse family had to deal with this added complication this fall as the flu or other bugs passed through their household. Chandler believes one of his children missed about 15 to 20 half or full days of preschool due to illness. Her other kids also missed a bunch of days.
And when a child is sick, Chandler or his partner must also take time off work.
« My partner and I actually feel quite lucky in the sense that we haven’t missed too many days. I know families who have had to miss more, » he said.
« We’re running out of sick leave…when it’s run out, we’ll have to use other things like annual leave or unpaid leave, which comes with its own stress. »
The Chandlers are far from alone right now. Many children missed school this fall due to illness, according to the territory’s teachers’ union.
“The anecdotal information I get from administrators and administrative assistants is that some schools have had up to 50% truancy on a few different days,” said Ted Hupe, president of the Education Professionals Association of Yukon, on CBC News last week. .
« And we’ve had some schools that have had a consistent rate of 25-30% no-shows, every day. »
Hupe said COVID-19 was partly to blame, but there also appears to be a bad cold or flu-like illness. It’s not terribly unusual at this time of year, he says, but the pandemic has changed the way people think about and react to illness.
« We’re a little more tuned in right now, given what we’ve been through over the past two years. »
According to the Yukon Department of Education, the percentage of students who were absent from Yukon schools during the first two weeks of November has been slightly higher in the past two years compared to the previous two years. Absences can be for any reason – not just illness.
The average daily percentage of students absent during this period was 23% this year and 25% last year. It was 18% in 2020-2021 and 14.5% in 2019-2020.
« A big pot of mixed viruses and bugs »
Hupe is particularly concerned about teacher absences as it is sometimes difficult for schools to find replacements.
« You know, sometimes schools are just a big mix of viruses and bugs. And so we have quite a bit of staff on site every day. And usually, [when] the children are sick, the teachers will get sick in the next few days,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Education, the daily average of educators absent due to illness between October 31 and November 10 was just under 7%.
Hupe said that’s been a problem in the Yukon for the past two years — not having enough teachers on call to cover absences.
“We have schools that are short, and like last year, we could face schools closed for a day or two because of the lack of staff in front of these children,” he said.
« We only have 120 subscribers [teachers on call] on the list. Before COVID, we had up to 300 subscribers on the list. So we are in a different period now.
« It’s just unfortunate, but that’s what we’re going to have to deal with. »