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Substitutes for isolating teachers difficult to find: ATA

Last Updated Aug 12, 2020 at 4:48 pm MST

Stock image of a classroom. (CREDIT: iStock)

CALGARY – Normally when a teacher gets sick a substitute is called in–but in this pandemic era, what happens if a teacher needs to self-isolate for two weeks?

Will there be enough subs to go around and can they cover multiple days or weeks at a time?

The Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) thinks this could be an issue this fall.

“We have to make sure that there is an availability of subs in all the areas across the province because we know some areas have issues with getting substitute teachers to come into schools just because there’s not enough [to begin with],” said ATA President Jason Schilling.

He also says there needs to be a common protocol across all the Alberta school districts to ensure subs’ safety when they go into a new classroom.

“So, if a sub goes from one school to a different school, they [should] have a base common practice so that they will have the assurance that there’s a mask if they need one, that they know where the hand sanitizer is,” said Schilling.

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“Maybe the school can make sure there’s a separate laptop for that substitute to use that hasn’t been used by anyone else for that’s been disinfected before the sub gets there.”

Schilling anticipated road bumps in getting subs for teachers who have to self isolate and get tested.

“I know some substitutes are concerns about going to multiple sites because they could be exposed. You’re increasing the number of people that you’re exposed to in the course of a workweek,” he said.

“But there are also concerns that a sub could be limited to one site and then not have enough sub time to make a decent income.”

Schilling says the ATA has floated the idea of putting subs on contract with a single school for the year with the government.

“I’ve brought [these issues] up with probably about three times now with (the Calgary Board of Education), about concerns for substitutes,” echoes Bob Cocking, President of Calgary Public Teachers.

He adds his group has been also pushing for contracts for subs so they limit the number of schools they go to.

“Whether or not the board can do that is another thing.”

Cocking says there are about 1,000 subs in Calgary.

“There’s so many unknowns for them… This is basically a recommendation to the government and school boards to let substitute teachers know what the next steps are going to be,” he said.

“If the government would provide school boards with additional funding to allow for compensation, that would be the best thing that could be done.”

-with files from Mark Strashok and Raynaldo Suarez