Days before school resumes, substitute teachers still in the dark

As the province grapples with a teacher shortage, subsitute teachers are still waiting to learn more about their COVID-19 protocols.

As province grapples with teacher shortage, substitute teachers are still waiting to learn COVID-19 protocols

Iain Childerhose, a substitute teacher for the English Montreal School Board, says a lot is still up in the air for substitute teachers. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

Parents and teachers are calling on school boards and service centres to clarify guidelines for substitute teachers heading back to school this week.

"We would like to see some stability for the children first and for [the substitute teachers] too," said Patricia Clermont, spokesperson for Je protège mon école publique, a group that represents parents.

The parents — and the Alliance des professeures et professeurs de Montréal, a union representing Montreal teachers — also want clearer rules about school daycare services, offered before and after classes.

Before the pandemic, Iain Childerhose, a substitute teacher for the English Montreal School Board, often found himself teaching at two or three different schools in a given week. 

With just days left before the school year begins, and with schools under strict guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is still unclear to him whether that will change this year. 

"I like teaching. I miss being in a classroom with students. But as it stands, there are just so many variables and things that haven't quite been figured out that leave me nervous for myself and for everybody who's connected to schools," said Childerhose. 

Childerhose is concerned that some schools may be better at applying the government's guidelines than others, and worries that by moving between schools, substitute teachers could be putting members of the community at risk. 

"The system's only as strong as its weakest link so it's definitely concerning," said Childerhose. 

Still waiting for information

Jen, a substitute teacher for the Lester B. Pearson School Board, has similar concerns. CBC News has agreed to withhold her name, as she is afraid identification will harm her chances of employment.

She said she wrote to the school board over a month ago but has yet to hear back. 

She was hoping she would receive at least some sort of details or guidelines about how the school year would work. 

"You would think that with the special circumstances there would be some type of training or some type of communication with the subs with regards to the new way of doing things," said Jen. 

She hopes to minimize her travel between schools this year but is not sure whether that will be an option. 

The EMSB and LBPSB did not respond to requests for comment. 

On the health ministry's website, the government says plans for replacements and substitute teachers are a school board matter, but says there is no increased risk to substitute teachers as long as they stick to the guidelines. 

"Supply teachers must respect the same health guidelines as the rest of the staff in order to reduce the potential spread of the virus," the ministry writes. 

"As long as these guidelines are followed, the public health authorities do not consider there to be a major risk." 

With some teachers nervous to head back to classrooms, teacher's unions have expressed concerns about a major school staffing shortage this year. 

Last week, the Alliance des professeures et professeurs de Montréal said the number of unfilled teaching positions is three times higher than it was at this time last year.

But in a tweet Tuesday morning, Education Minister Jean-Fracois Roberge said there are currently 256 vacant full-time teaching positions in the province, down from 360 at this time last year. 

With files from Chloë Ranaldi


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