The Canadian Press : Teachers are feeling the burden of staff shortages nearly two weeks after in-person instruction started in Nova Scotia schools, according to the head of their union.

While no schools have been forced to close as a result of COVID-19, Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, said in an interview on Thursday that this doesn’t mean there aren’t severe teacher shortages or that learning isn’t being harmed.

“What I’m hearing on the ground is that things aren’t going well,” Wozney remarked. “A lot of individuals are missing, and it’s quite tough for people to cover for them.” Preparation time for teachers is being soaked up like a sponge.”

Premier Tim Houston stated on Wednesday that roughly 11% of teachers and staff had been reported absent earlier this week, and that student attendance was hovering around 85%, compared to 92 percent on average.

Despite the system’s stress, Houston claimed the problem is “manageable at this stage.”

However, Wozney said the union isn’t sure about the province’s overall data, particularly when it comes to teacher absenteeism, because it doesn’t have access to it.

“It’s difficult to say if it’s 11% or greater,” he remarked. “We’re taking more blood from the same stone because of the lack of people, and that’s a concerning symptom since it’ll only compound staff absences over time.”

Teachers without a daily class and administrative personnel from school districts will be allocated to fill in for teachers who are at home due to illness or the need to self-isolate, according to the province’s contingency plan.

When “non-qualified” people take over the teaching reins, Wozney believes this raises major concerns about the quality of training certain children are receiving.

In some circumstances, he said, it’s as simple as having “someone sit in a room” to keep an eye on the students.

“It raises the question of whether the goal is simply to keep schools open so that kids may be housed during the day, or whether schools are serving their intended purpose,” Wozney said.

Following a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Education Minister Becky Druhan shot down the claim.

“Every single person who is being deployed into classrooms to teach is completely qualified to do so,” Druhan said. “Adjustments are made on a school-by-school basis and are based on the demands of the day.”

Meanwhile, health officials confirmed one new fatality as a result of COVID-19 on Wednesday – a woman in her 70s from the Halifax region. Since the start of the Omicron wave on December 8, there have been 31 deaths in Nova Scotia.

Officials also recorded 11 new admissions and 327 patients in hospitals with infections, including 15 in intensive care.

COVID-19 instances have been found in 366 new lab-confirmed cases, with an estimated 4,276 active cases in the province, according to officials.

(The Canadian Press initially published this information on January 27, 2022.)

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