Occasional teachers in Ottawa say they're still in the dark about how they'll be protected from COVID-19 during the upcoming school year.
Dave Wildman, a teacher and local president for the union representing occasional teachers with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), said substitute teachers have specific concerns that most full-time educators don't face.
Right now, most are very anxious because plans aren't solid yet. - Dave Wildman, Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Occasional Teachers' Association
Occasional teachers often work at different schools, so they're exposed to a greater number of students and staff. In both Ontario and British Colombia, personal care workers who worked in multiple homes were found to be a significant risk factor for COVID-19 outbreaks in those settings.
"They're worried about not just their own health and safety, they're worried about exposure to the virus, taking it home to their families, especially if they have people at home who are immunocompromised, and they're worried about the number of contacts they have," said Wildman.
"Right now, most are very anxious because plans aren't solid yet."
At a special board meeting last Friday, OCDSB administrators were asked what they're doing about the potential risks facing supply teachers.
Janice McCoy, the board's superintendent of human resources, said the OCDSB is developing "different layers of precautions."
All occasional teachers (OTs) will receive a full day of training, like regular staff, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) to use in schools, she said. They must also undergo regular health assessments and will be told not to work if they feel ill.
The board is also considering expanding an existing program by assigning a dedicated supply teacher to each elementary school to limit their exposure, McCoy said. There are also discussions about expanding that program into high schools, she added.
"In previous years, those OTs could be redeployed to other sites. Our plan is, initially, to have the person remain in the school so they are a part of the school," she said.
Union leader skeptical
Wildman said he's skeptical about the plan, and called for more comprehensive safety measures.
"What we need are small cohorts, social distancing, we need personal hygiene, wash stations where people can wash their hands, we need PPE, we need deep cleaning done regularly, we need proper air circulation, and that means HVAC systems that work or windows that open," he said.
"We need all of those things, and the provincial government has refused to fund them."
Premier Doug Ford has promised to create the safest environment possible in the province's schools, and Education Minister Stephen Lecce issued a statement on Monday asking school boards to limit exposure for occasional teachers.