North

If a teacher is off sick, will there be a substitute? Maybe not, says Yukon union

The Yukon Teachers' Association (YTA) is concerned the territory might not have enough substitute teachers available if teachers are staying home more often this school year.

'If we don't have teachers in those rooms, we'll end up having to shut down classrooms'

The Yukon Teachers' Association is concerned about whether there are enough substitute teachers available in the territory if regular teachers have to stay home more often this year. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The Yukon Teachers' Association (YTA) is concerned the territory might not have enough substitute teachers available if teachers are staying home more often this school year.

"Over the past two years, we have had a shortage of teachers-on-call. Our teachers have been in short supply in regular circumstances," said YTA president Ted Hupé.

"This year it's going to be even a bigger concern, because the guidelines are telling not only teachers but everyone to  stay home if you have a symptom that corresponds with the COVID[-19] list of symptoms."

Hupé is worried that it may be difficult to keep schools staffed every day. He says many of Yukon's teachers-on-call are older retired teachers, meaning they may be more vulnerable to COVID-19 and therefore reluctant to enter a school.  

The shortage of teachers could further disrupt the school year for some students, he said.

"If we don't have teachers in those rooms, we'll end up having to shut down classrooms — and that is the last thing anybody wants," he said.

"We have heard nothing about increase in staffing. That has not been discussed at all."

The Yukon Teachers' Association building in Whitehorse. The shortage of teachers could further disrupt the school year for some students, says the association president. (CBC)

Hupé is also concerned about the operational plans developed for each school. Those plans were to be posted on each school's website this week, and Hupé says that hasn't left teachers much time to review them before they're back in class next week.

"We still have a lot of plans that have not been released," he said on Thursday.

"They weren't released to the YTA any earlier than they were to the public. And it makes it really hard for us to respond, ask those tough questions to make the situation better."

Mask recommendation a 'welcome development' 

Meanwhile, the YTA is getting behind a recommendation that older students wear masks when school starts next week.

On Wednesday, the territory's chief medical officer said children aged 10 and older should wear protective face masks on school buses and in other school situations where physical distancing is not possible.

Hupé called it a "welcome development."

"We need everyone to be back at school, but we need it to be safe ... Masks are a component that we welcome because it is one part of making the working environment safe for teachers and students."

The mask recommendation is also being welcomed by the Yukon Medical Association (YMA). Timothy Ryan Warshawski, interim president of the YMA, calls it a "reasonable step."

On Wednesday, Yukon's chief medical officer said children aged 10 and older should wear protective face masks on school buses and in other school situations where physical distancing is not possible. (Halfpoint/Shutterstock)

"The important thing here is to take on measures that keep us ahead of the curve, if you will," he said. 

"The other goal of this is if, and hopefully there won't be, but if there is a second wave and we have mask use normalized and people comfortable with the idea, then again we're just one step ahead of where we need to be."

Warshawski recommends that parents talk their children openly about the virus and the need to take reasonable precautions — such as wearing a face mask in some circumstances.

He advises parents to get their kids used to it, before school starts.

"I would encourage parents ahead of time to practise wearing a mask with their children, and maybe try and model appropriate mask behaviour," Warshawski said.

"My main advice is just open communication, and talk about things before the first day of school."

With files from Elyn Jones

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