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Hundreds of teacher vacancies reported on first day back in Calgary


The CBE reported 681 vacant teaching positions at public schools, with 208 going unfilled by class time Monday morning

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As students and staff returned to in-person classes after an extended winter break on Monday, Calgary schools worked to bring in substitute teachers and shuffle resources to cover for absences.

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Five classes of Grade 6 and 7 students at two public schools were notified ahead of their first day back they would be starting instruction online due to staffing issues, the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) said in a statement. There were 681 vacant teaching positions at public schools, with 208 going unfilled by class time Monday morning.

As well, the CBE recorded 436 support staff absences on Monday and wasn’t able to fill 99 of those positions.

“Staffing in schools remains a significant challenge that we are managing within our existing resources,” said the CBE.

“While our current efforts are on meeting instructional needs, we also anticipate issues with filling support staff positions … As time progresses, unfilled support staff positions such as education assistants and lunchroom supervisors will impact the operation of schools.”

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Students returned to in-person instruction after an additional week of winter break because of the rapid transmission of the Omicron variant provincewide. Alberta reported that more than 57,000 active cases of COVID-19 are confirmed by lab tests, as of Monday, though the actual number of cases is much higher.

CBE said they’re doing everything immediately possible to remain open for in-person learning, which includes moving principals and other school staff into classrooms and redeploying learning strategists and area personnel to cover unfilled vacancies.

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“The use of positions like principals and learning strategists can be applied for emergent, short-term time periods, but are otherwise not sustainable for individual schools on an ongoing basis in order to uphold our high standards for teaching and learning,” said the school board.

The Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) also shifted staff around to fill vacant positions on the first day back.

Of the 276 staff absences at CCSD schools, the board said 35 per cent could be directly attributed to COVID-19. Eighty per cent of the vacancies were filled by substitutes, while the other 20 per cent were covered internally by reallocating staff.

“We want to thank our staff for their flexibility in covering essential positions,” CCSD said in a statement.

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Last week, Alberta Education announced a plan to distribute rapid tests and medical-grade masks in an effort to enhance existing safety protocols at schools.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said on Twitter the distribution of about 8.6 million tests and 16.5 million masks had begun.

“Schools play such a critical role in supporting students’ overall well-being,” said LaGrange online.

Premier Jason Kenney encouraged teachers and parents to watch for rapid tests and masks that are expected to arrive at schools this week.

“Great to see students in Alberta back in the classroom today after an extended Christmas break,” Kenney said on Twitter.

Alberta Teachers’ Association President Jason Schilling pushed back against the premier’s post online.

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“It was stated on Jan. 4 that the government was doing ‘everything we can to keep kids in school’ yet today, thousands returned without the bare minimum promised — masks and rapid tests, sub shortages already and no contact tracing/reporting,” Schilling said.

“If it’s a priority then actually do that.”

CCSD said they have been told the masks will come in different packaging and staff will be required to re-pack them before giving them to students. Once they’ve arrived sometime this week, each student and staff member should expect to receive 20 masks.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said there was no perfect answer when deciding whether or not to return to in-person instruction.

“We have always tried very hard to keep kids in school,” she said Monday. “We know there are significant impacts to kids’ health if we keep them out of school for long periods of time.”

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Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.

Bradley Lafortune, executive director of the advocacy group Public Interest Alberta, said the government didn’t do enough over the winter break to improve conditions for teachers and students.

“I can’t overstate how worried teachers and parents and kids are right now,” said Lafortune, adding that a teacher he spoke with last week said her mental health was at the lowest point it’s ever been with the anxiety of returning to her classroom.

Lafortune said the shipments of masks and tests should have arrived before sometime during the first week of classes, and contact tracers should have been hired to help schools track exposure.

“We’re really concerned about the capacity of the system. And we have a lot of empathy for these teachers and educators who are making really tough choices,” he said.

CBE said they will continue to monitor the situation and will inform parents and guardians as early as possible if their children’s classes are shifting online.

sbabych@postmedia.com
Twitter: @BabychStephanie

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