Colds and flu mean Yukon classrooms sometimes only half full, union says
'We've had some schools that have had a steady 25 to 30 per cent out, on any given day'
Mark Chandler and his partner have plenty to juggle between their full-time jobs and their three young kids. Add some sickness into the mix and things get even more complicated.
"It just adds another ball to be juggled," Chandler said.
The Whitehorse family has had to deal with that extra complication quite a bit this fall, as the flu or other bugs have circulated through their household. Chandler figures one of his kids has missed about 15 to 20 half or full days of preschool because of illness. His other kids have also missed a bunch of days.
And when a child is sick, either Chandler or his partner also have to miss 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 using up our sick leave ... when that runs out, we'll have to use other things like vacation leave or leave without pay, which comes with its own set of stresses."
The Chandlers are far from alone right now. Lots of kids have been missing school this fall because of sickness, according to the territory's teachers' union.
"The anecdotal information that I'm getting from administrators and admin assistants is that some schools have had up to 50 per cent absenteeism during a few different days," Ted Hupe, president of the Yukon Association of Education Professionals, told CBC News last week.
"And we've had some schools that have had a steady 25 to 30 per cent out, on any given day."
Hupe said COVID-19 is partially to blame, but there also seems to be a bad cold or flu-like illness going around. That's not very unusual at this time of year, he says, but the pandemic has changed how people think and respond to illness.
"We're kind of more attuned to it right now, considering what we've gone through over the past couple of years."
According to Yukon's 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 two years prior. Absences could be for any reason — not just illness.
The daily average percentage of students absent over that period was 23 per cent this year, and 25 per cent last year. It was 18 per cent in 2020-21, and 14.5 per cent in 2019-20.
'One big mixing pot of viruses and bugs'
Hupe is particularly concerned about teacher absences because it's sometimes been hard for schools to find substitutes.
"You know, schools are just one big mixing pot of viruses and bugs sometimes. And so we have quite a few staff out on any given day. And usually, [when] the kids are sick, teachers will get sick in the next few days," he said.
According to the department of Education, the daily average of educators who were absent due to illness between Oct. 31 and Nov. 10 was just under seven per cent.
Hupe said it's been an issue in Yukon for the last couple of years — not having enough teachers on call to cover absences.
"We have schools that are running short, and like last year we could face schools shutting down for a day or two because of lack of personnel in front of those children," he said.
"We only have 120 subs [teachers on call] on the list. Before COVID, we had up to 300 subs on the list. So we're in a different time period now.
"It's just unfortunate, but that's what we're going to have to deal with."
With files from Elyn Jones and Leslie Amminson