NEW BEDFORD — As omicron spreads across the state, New Bedford Public Schools have been dealing with the impact on students and staff. 

Nearly 261 employees who work directly with students were absent on Monday, when school resumed following the holiday break, accounting for about 15% of that staff. It was almost a doubling of absences before the break, which were 149, or nearly 8.5% of student-facing staff members. 

Student attendance was also down by about 15%, according to a statement from Superintendent Thomas Anderson, though he said staff and student attendance increased on Tuesday, but not by how much. 

School spokesperson Arthur Motta on Tuesday evening said he did not have the exact number of student absences but would seek confirmation. 

“While this is a marked increase in absences, it is not unexpected,” Anderson said, noting school officials are in continued communication with city and state health officials. 

Thomas Nickerson, president of the New Bedford Educators Association, said by email that despite the number of staff and student absences, the district remains operational. Under agreements with the unions, substitute teachers fill the vacancies initially, but other educators have also been stepping in to cover classes due to the increased need. 

The district on Tuesday announced it was also pausing all games and athletic practices through the week following a rise in COVID-19 cases among several school athletic teams. Officials will reevaluate the situation over the weekend to determine whether athletic activity can resume. 

Motta did not immediately respond to a request for the number of cases confirmed over the weekend among student athletes. In a separate inquiry, he referred The Light to the district’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard, which displays the number of cases reported by students and staff to the district. It shows a jump in reported cases from between 10 to 17 last week, to 55 on Jan. 3. Data for Jan. 4 was not yet available. 

“Vaccination continues to be a key component,” Anderson said. “We urge every eligible person to get their vaccine and to monitor local media and the district’s social media for the latest updates.”

Email Anastasia Lennon at alennon@newbedfordlight.org.

Editor’s note: This story was amended on Jan. 5, 2022, to restore comments from NBEA Union President Thomas Nickerson, which were omitted from the original report.

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