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Ontario Schools Are Looking For ‘Unqualified People’ to Fill-In for Teachers Who Get Sick with COVID-19

Teachers unions say last minute search for replacement teachers shows Doug Ford’s government has ‘no plan’ to respond to omicron wave

As Ontario’s students head back-to-school, some schools are looking for anyone with a high school or university diploma to fill-in if teachers get sick with COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail reported that Ontario’s Ministry of Education has made arrangements to allow retired teachers to work for 95 days, up from 50, to address staff shortages and “stabilize the school work force.” The Ford government has also said school boards can combine classes and reassign students.

But in Peel Region, where health officials said they expect “all” residents will “face omicron infection at some point in the winter,” one local high school is looking to hire “emergency temporary coverage school monitors” to fill-in for teachers.

In a recent email to parents newly obtained by PressProgress, administrators at Stephen Lewis Secondary School announced they are hiring emergency “school monitors” in anticipation of “staff absences” due to the omicron wave:

“We are currently hiring Emergency Temporary Coverage school monitors for SLSS. School monitors will be called upon to provide supervision coverage for classes if we are unable to fill staff absences through supply or in-school teachers.”

According to the email, provincial emergency powers, specifically the Ford government’s Emergency Regulation 298, allows them to staff schools with “monitors.”

The letter lists only two requirements for would-be “school monitors.”

First, they must “hold a post-secondary degree / diploma” or be “in the final year of a post-secondary program” – seemingly in any subject.

Second, after a “successful” interview, they must pass a criminal background check.

The deadline to apply is this Friday, ahead of Monday’s reopening.

Letter to parents from Stephen Lewis Secondary School

A spokesperson for the Peel District School Board, which includes Stephen Lewis, confirmed to PressProgress the school board is looking for people to fill-in for “safety purposes.” The board also clarified school monitor applicants must be over 18-years-old and have a high school diploma:

“The Peel District School Board relies on individuals who must be at least 18 years of age and hold an Ontario secondary school diploma, an Ontario secondary school graduation diploma or an Ontario secondary school honour graduation diploma to assist with student supervision for safety purposes. Principals are responsible for hiring School Monitors to assist with supervision for safety purposes.”

Other schools also appear to be scrambling in search of replacements.

In a job description on its website, the Halton Catholic District School board said it is looking for “candidates who are not certified teachers nor pending certification from the Ontario College of Teachers” to “support students within the classroom in-person” in case teachers are “absent from work.”

The job posting for the “Emergency Replacement Supply” position, which pays $19.35 per hour, reads:

“An Emergency Replacement Supply may be offered work on an urgent basis when a permanent teacher is absent from work and no certified (or pending certification) teacher replacement is available … an Emergency Replacement Supply will provide reasonable support to students within the classroom in-person or in a virtual setting, as required, and provide supervision and respond appropriately when issues arise.”

Applicants need little more than “experience working / volunteering with children and adolescents” and “education, work experience, lived experience, or skills background, that support the cultivation of a diverse and representative workforce to meet the needs of our student body” — as well as an “understanding of and a willingness to support the mission of a Catholic school system.”

Halton Catholic District School Board job posting

The union representing Ontario high school teachers says that while it wants to see students get back to in-person learning, it has concerns about “unqualified people” assuming duties held by certified teachers.

We certainly hope this will not be a trend, where we have unqualified people working with students,” Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation President Karen Littlewood told PressProgress.

“We want to get schools back in person because for students in-person learning is best. However, if they’re not being taught by a teacher I’m not sure what purpose it’s serving.”

“We’re seeing a collapse of the system that was already facing massive cuts before the pandemic and a plan that has not been thought out beforehand,” Littlewood added. “We have a teacher shortage and we have been saying this well before COVID-19.”

Littlewood noted that it’s “good they require a criminal background check,” but questioned how they will be able to do so on a tight timeline, pointing out that background checks “usually require at least a few weeks.”

CUPE, which represents educational assistants at schools across the province, says it is also hearing reports from its members that other school boards are “asking parents to fill-in for education workers.”

“The proposal to hire unqualified people as emergency temporary workers in schools isn’t a plan,” Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s school board council told PressProgress.. “It’s proof that the government is panicking because it has no plan to replace education workers when they’re absent, and no plan to recruit qualified staff.”

In November, the Ford government’s Fall fiscal update confirmed more than $500 million in education funding cuts. Last April, the province disclosed that schools were “the sources of more outbreaks than workplaces or any other location.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Education did not respond to requests for comment.

 

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Mitchell Thompson
Ontario Reporter
Mitchell Thompson is PressProgress’ Ontario reporter. His reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, and public services and privatization, and public accountability.

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