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School board issues call for emergency teachers (updated)

Union official says there would be teacher shortage if some took sick with COVID-19
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To say we’re living in unusual times is an understatement.

The Algoma District School Board (ADSB) has issued, on its website, an external job posting inviting applications “from interested community members for unqualified Emergency Occasional Teachers for both the Secondary and Elementary Panels of the Algoma District School Board.”

“Successful applicants will be called out for daily occasional teaching positions should contract teachers be unavailable to fill daily absences. Applicants are able to select which schools and or areas they are interested in working from,” the posting reads.

“With the increased number of occasional teachers that we have had to reassign recently to support the virtual learning environment, as well as the potential of increased staff absences, there may be a shortage of occasional teachers available to fill these absences. Therefore, the Algoma District School Board has moved forward with issuing an external posting, inviting applicants to apply for Unqualified Emergency Occasional Teaching Positions for both the elementary and the secondary panels,” wrote Frank Palumbo, ADSB superintendent of human resources, in an email to SooToday Friday.

“These unqualified individuals would only be called out to teach if there are no qualified occasional teachers, who are currently employed by the Algoma District School Board, available to fill teacher absences. All applicants will be required to participate in an interview and clearance process as per our normal hiring practices,” Palumbo wrote.

“I’m not upset. I understand the unprecedented conditions we’re in right now,” said Sharon Indrevold, Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) Algoma Secondary Occasional Teachers Local 2 president, speaking to SooToday Wednesday.

“If they can find qualified teachers, absolutely, we want qualified teachers in the classrooms, we don’t want unqualified teachers...I don’t speak for the board but I think they are trying to be proactive with this, maybe anticipating there could be an outbreak (of COVID-19 among teachers) in the schools and they could lose a number of qualified teachers and not have enough to fill and it gets back to what do we do with those kids if there aren’t enough (teachers) to supervise.

“For a place like Wawa, they might have one or two occasional teachers at most, so if you had a pandemic situation or a number of people quarantined to home until they get a test, if it’s negative they would be able to return to work (but) if not, you would have to follow the protocols Algoma Public Health put in place.

“The fear is there aren’t going to be enough qualified occasional teachers to shore up those lists and get qualified applicants...there is a problem in the north, trying to get people to volunteer to come up north,” Indrevold said.

“The offering of three different types of programming (and the hiring of teachers as a result) has caused the occasionals bargaining unit to be depleted a little bit, so there were a lot of long terms hired, some for classroom instruction, the distance learning and the virtual school. That’s taken some of the long term occasional teachers off our roster. We have a long term list and a roster, so if you collectively put them all together in this entire district, the six areas from Chapleau, Hornepayne, Wawa, Elliot Lake, Blind River, the Sault and CASS, you don’t have a lot of options for occasional teachers. If something were to happen, you don’t have enough to fill (a gap in the number of) absent contract teachers,” Indrevold said.

Calling it “a bonus” for some of her members having recently been hired full time due to the offering of three different types of programming, Indrevold acknowledged “the board has made every attempt to try and get qualified teachers, but we’re at a point now where they don’t and they have to make some decisions about what they can do if people get sick or if two or three teachers are quarantined.”

Indrevold said “they’re putting the call out (as necessary). (But) I’ve never seen that in my years and I’ve been doing this a long time.”

Indrevold said those who could possibly be called in as emergency teachers could include individuals with a university degree (without a teacher’s certificate) or experienced tradespeople to teach technical subjects.

“In the contract, they can do up to 10 days. Any person who is unqualified or uncertified can do up to 10 days in a pinch situation. That's what the Education Act allows and that’s what the contract allows.”

“We’ve got a pretty good working relationship with the board personnel and human resources,” Indrevold said.

“I’m sympathetic to the situation. I understand we’re in a pandemic situation. We sympathize with the board. We understand they have to have a plan in place.”

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) members were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.