Some Nunavut teachers resigned ahead of vaccine requirement for air travellers, says teachers' union

·3 min read
Students board a school bus at the Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in a March 30, 2009, file photo. The president of the Nunavut Teachers' Association said some teachers left during the school year, before the federal government’s vaccination requirement for air travellers went into effect on Oct. 30. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press - image credit)
Students board a school bus at the Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in a March 30, 2009, file photo. The president of the Nunavut Teachers' Association said some teachers left during the school year, before the federal government’s vaccination requirement for air travellers went into effect on Oct. 30. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press - image credit)

Nunavut lost educators because they didn't want to get vaccinated and were worried about being able to fly out of the territory, according to the union representing the territory's teachers.

"We did have six that we know of, teachers, resign their positions because they were worried about the implications of not being able to travel and not being vaccinated," said Justin Matchett, president of the Nunavut Teachers' Association.

"So that did affect some of our communities."

Teachers in Nunavut are not required to be vaccinated.

Matchett said the teachers left during the school year, before the federal government's vaccination requirement for air travellers went into effect on Oct. 30. As of Nov. 30, a negative COVID-19 molecular test will be accepted as an alternative to vaccination only in limited situations, such as for passengers from remote communities who need essential services like medical care.

"They were all teachers that wanted to stay and enjoy teaching and in Nunavut, and that's the reason that they left from what I understand," said Matchett. "They were just worried about finishing the school year and then not being able to get on to a flight and go see their family down south."

CBC News reached out to Nunavut's Education Department early last week, but they have yet to provide comment.

High Arctic Haulers/CBC
High Arctic Haulers/CBC

Asina Angotingoar, chairperson of the Naujaat District Education Authority, said between the elementary school and the high school, Naujaat, Nunavut, lost seven educators during the pandemic.

"The high school vice-principal, she left because the pandemic, she didn't want to take the vaccine. She was scared," said Angotingoar.

She didn't know how many others left for the same reason.

According to the Nunavut Teacher Induction Program website, Naujaat's Tuugaalik High School has eight teacher positions. The website for the elementary school, Tusarvik School, lists 12 teachers and six specialty educators.

Angotingoar said it's hard to find teachers to work in Naujaat because they have to live in shared housing, and this doesn't work for everyone. She said the high school was able to find two new teachers in the last few weeks.

Matchett said in general, teachers have cited difficulties with housing, and issues with the curriculum — "we don't have much in terms of Nunavut-made curriculum that students can relate to" — as reasons for leaving their jobs.

The Education Department did not respond to CBC's requests for permission to interview the principals in Naujaat.

Teachers leaving creates 'large disruption' for students

It's unclear how many teachers in Nunavut come from outside the territory. According to the Education Department's 2019-2020 annual report, 29 per cent of its "professional" positions, and 85 per cent of its "paraprofessional" positions, were filled by Inuit.

Matchett said teacher turnover and filling vacancies are ongoing issues in Nunavut, and that the pandemic made them worse.

Teachers leaving at this point in the school year creates a "large disruption" for students, said Matchett.

"The first few weeks of the school year are critical for a teacher," he said. "Whatever teacher that comes in there is going to have, likely, some difficulty setting up their own routines and getting the class back on track."

Matchett said it will be hard to find replacement teachers this academic year.

The challenge of finding substitutes

Doug Workman is chairperson of the Iqaluit District Education Authority and vice chairperson of the Coalition of Nunavut DEAs, a non-government organization that represents parents.

He said "it's almost impossible" to get substitute teachers in Nunavut.

"We are always challenged in that area here in Iqaluit, so it would be worse in a smaller community," he said.

Workman said understaffed schools may ask people who aren't teachers, like the learning coach, or even the principal, to teach, or students might be grouped into larger classes.

Workman was surprised to hear that there had been unvaccinated teachers in the territory.

He said the Nunavut government has been urging all government workers, and especially those who work with members of the public like children, to get their shots.

Matchett said the union is also promoting vaccination.

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