Saskatchewan

'Significant' teacher shortage brewing in Sask. as Omicron surges: teachers' union

The head of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation says a “significant” staff shortage is taking place in schools as Saskatchewan grapples with a surge in COVID cases driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Not enough substitute teachers to cover if large number of staff get infected and have to isolate, union says

The P.E.I. Teachers' Federation says there needs to be an "intense concerted effort for substitute recruitment." Officials with the Public Schools Branch maintains that is happening. (James Arthur Gekiere/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images)

The head of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) says a "significant" staff shortage is taking place in schools as Saskatchewan grapples with a surge in COVID cases driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Saskatchewan is the only province that has students returning in-person to school this week. All other provinces have delayed their start date or shifted to online learning.

The STF previously called on the province to delay the classes for two days, mainly as a way to give school divisions time to assess staffing shortages, said STF president Patrick Maze.

"Unfortunately, we are hearing of significant staffing shortages primarily at this point in time in the urban schools in Regina and Saskatoon," Maze told CBC News on Tuesday.

Maze said he has heard of several schools in Saskatoon that are short five to seven full-time teachers.

He said "a lot" of teachers in Regina have contacted him in recent days informing him they've tested positive for COVID-19. 

Maze said there aren't enough substitute teachers to cover if a large number of regular staff get infected and have to self-isolate. 

"Our main concern is ensuring student safety. And I'm not sure how school divisions are doing that when they're short that many staff members," Maze said. 

"It was predicted and could have been prevented. And unfortunately, our government has rolled ahead with a regular back-to-school start date and now we seem to be paying the price for it."

Darcy Warrington is a teacher at a school in Saskatoon. He said he expects staffing shortages in a week. (Submitted by Darcy Warrington)

Darcy Warrington, who teaches band and physical education at a school in Saskatoon, said there aren't shortages in his school yet, but he's expecting them in a week.

"We are going to see a strange situation where we're all leaning on each other in these buildings to solve very time-sensitive problems," Warrington said.

"All involved with education would like to see more guidance and support form our provincial government, our education minister, our health minister and our premier."

School divisions monitoring staffing situation

The public and Catholic school divisions in Saskatoon and Regina tell CBC News they won't share staff absentee numbers and that there are numerous reasons why staff may be away from school.

"However, if staff absenteeism were to impact the operating of our schools and in-class teaching, we would certainly share this information as well as how the school division would deal with it," wrote Terry Lazarou, Regina Public Schools division supervisor of communications in an email.

Twylla West, a spokesperson for the Regina Catholic Schools Division, said the division is monitoring staff levels daily.

"Certainly we know we're facing some challenges related to COVID-19 once again," West said. "As for subs, again, we're monitoring, and we know we could face challenges there."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yasmine Ghania is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan, currently based in Saskatoon.

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