Flu season could cause chaos in Maple Ridge classrooms

Need to recruit and retain teachers across B.C.: teachers federation.

With a month of the school year in the books, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation says the problem of teacher shortages is not being resolved, and the coming flu season could bring a crisis.

The Maple Ridge Teachers Association said the district has been unable to recruit some specialty teachers, and the pool of on-call – or substitute – teachers has been depleted.

“The teacher on-call issue is huge,” said MRTA president George Serra. “It’s a provincial issue, but the Lower Mainland has been hit hard.”

When teachers can’t make it to work, schools are already scrambling – like closing libraries and putting librarians in front of a class.

“With 10 per cent of the school year already over, school districts and the employers’ association need to get moving on concrete measures to recruit and retain teachers right across B.C.,” said BCTF president Glen Hansman.

“For months, the BCTF has been proposing ideas, but we haven’t seen any meaningful action that will bring into B.C. the high number of teachers our schools need for both contract and on-call positions.”

He predicts chaos when the flu season hits.

“When that happens, the critical shortage of on-call teachers will lead to significant disruptions to schools and students. We are already seeing cases of unfilled teacher vacancies in schools on a daily basis,” said Hansman. “And in some extreme cases, some students still don’t have their permanent teacher.”

The school district staff said they have done a good job recruiting teachers, and the effort continues.

“We have managed to recruit and hire approximately 160 teachers during our most recent hiring campaign. We have approximately three or four specialty teaching positions [counsellors, French Immersion, support] that we are actively recruiting for,” said district spokesperson Justin Beddall.

“We also continue to recruit teachers on call. Overall, our district is in a good position.”

Staff illness could create headaches.

“The cold and flu season could pose some challenges depending on the number of teachers on call that are available to fill illness absences,” said Beddall. “The cold and flu season impacts our on-call teachers and their ability to attend work as well.

However, parents don’t have to worry that their school will be turning students away.

“It is not our practice to send children home,” said Beddall. “When there is a need, we make any necessary staffing adjustments internally to ensure that a positive education setting is maintained for the students.”

Serra said school districts and the province should look at incentives to attract qualified teachers who have either left the profession or left the province.

“There are a lot of conversations about how to get those folks back,” he said.

Hansman explained that it’s not uncommon or unreasonable to see some staffing and organizing complications in the first two or three weeks of school. However, after a full month, the challenges schools are still facing should have been fixed. The slow pace of recruitment in several districts is starting to affect students’ educational programs.

“We’re now hearing of cases where specialist teachers are being redeployed to fill vacancies in regular classrooms. This has a detrimental effect on the students who rely on the extra help they get from specialists. For example, some English language learner students or students with special needs are now losing out on time with their specialists, because those teachers are being sent into classrooms to cover for absences or unfilled positions,” said Hansman. “This shouldn’t be the norm, but some districts have allowed this to become the norm. This is not okay, and it needs to stop.”

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