Primary and secondary schools reopened Monday with hundreds of children and teaching staff absent due to either contracting COVID-19 or being reported as a close contact.
School students and teachers returned to class, following the Christmas holidays, under stricter COVID testing protocols.
All students and teachers must present a negative rapid test not older than 48 hours to be allowed in classrooms; primary school students must get tested twice weekly.
Secondary education students are already tested every 72 hours, with the exemption of vaccinated students.
The head of primary education, Marios Stylianides, said in comments to Omega TV that 360 teachers at primary schools and kindergartens did not return on Monday as they were either positive cases or close contacts.
Some 450 teachers (7.5%) did not return to schools in secondary education since they are either cases or contacts.
At the same time, 7,500 students (18%) were not at their desks due to COVID-19.
Stylianides said 29% of students at kindergartens did not turn up when pre-primary schools opened on Friday.
Larnaca and Paphos school commission boards reported that 15% and 20% of students in the respective district did not go to school after the Christmas holidays.
Petros Chrysostomou, the chairman of the Larnaca school board, told the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) that around 15% of students in the entire district were absent from school on Monday due to worries over the high number of COVID-19 cases.
“The total number of absentees amounted to 1,200 schoolchildren and 65 teachers,” the Paphos primary schools’ head Dimitris Mikellides told CNA.
Last week, Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said they expected that around 530 teachers would not make it on Monday due to COVID.
The ministry has requested unemployed teachers come forward to fill in for sick colleagues.
According to Education Ministry sources, 60 positions in primary education and 14 kindergarten positions for substitute teachers are not filled.
Despite the surge in coronavirus infections, the cabinet opted to return to in-person teaching with strict protocols, despite concerns voiced by teacher unions and parents about staffing levels and a possible further spike in cases.
In comments to the Financial Mirror, the primary school teachers’ union POED head, Myria Vasiliou, confirmed many students were absent on the first day after the holidays.
“It’s been a tough day for schools, and we expect this will be the case throughout the week unless authorities address the issue of staff shortages,” said Vasiliou.
She said the union is trying to gather exact numbers of staff and students absent on the first day, noting she expects to find higher numbers than what the ministry had calculated last week.
“Calculations regarding staff shortages were made earlier last week.
“In the meantime, we had thousands more cases being reported and thousands more close contacts going into self-isolation.
“We demand the government creates a pool of substitute teachers offering unemployed colleagues short-term full-time contracts to address the issue of staff shortages caused by the new outbreak,” said Vasiliou.
She argued this is what the Education Ministry did in 2020 to address the large number of teachers having to stay home due to COVID but is reluctant to do so now.