A teachers' union in northern British Columbia says the current "severe" shortage of substitute teachers across the school district could compromise services to students who need extra support.
Katherine Trepanier of the Prince George District Teachers' Association says the district currently has 35 substitute teachers, often referred to as teachers teaching on call (TTOCs), far less than the needed 80 to 100 substitute teachers.
A TTOC is a certified teacher that substitutes for full-time teachers who are unavailable for work due to personal leave, illness or other reasons.
When there aren't enough TTOCs to backfill full-time teachers, schools assign non-enrolling school staff — staff who are not assigned to classrooms, such as learning assistance teachers and librarians — to fill in, says Trepanier.
"And so what's happening is all of those services that those people provide are not being given to students," she told guest host Matt Allen on Daybreak North.
"All of the teachers in the schools that don't have their own classes but are there to provide extra support, such as learning assistance and counselling and English language learning support … are being pulled to cover the classes that [they] don't have to teach that day," she said.
"Our most vulnerable students are not getting the extra support that they need."
Trepanier adds that 638 hours of support services, such as one-on-one supportive learning and library services for students in the Prince George school district, have been lost this September and October, compared to the 103 hours lost during the same period last year.
COVID-19 is also exacerbating the situation. Trepanier said teachers are more likely to take time off work if they have minor symptoms such as a runny nose, leading to an increased demand for substitutes.
Cindy Heitman, acting superintendent at the Prince George school district, shared that viewpoint in an email to CBC in which she said teachers taking leave due to symptoms was behind many of the absences being recorded.
"Clearly the impact of COVID-19 is being felt around the province, and our district is no exception to that," she wrote.
To try and address the shortage, the district has been recruiting retired teachers to return to the classroom, and has started hiring TTOCs without a teaching degree.
Trepanier says she encourages parents to write to their MLA and school trustees to relay their concerns over the shortage and declining support services for their children.