NDP Education Carla Beck joined with concerned substitute teachers today to call for a province-wide plan that takes their safety into account. Specifically, Beck identified paid sick days and cohorting as basic conditions for a safe school reopening and called on the Premier to step up to guarantee those measures.

“By sticking us with the worst school reopening plan in Canada, this government has left teachers worried about who will step in if they need to take a sick day, and substitute teachers vulnerable and exposed, with no guaranteed sick leave and no protection as they prepare to interact with potentially hundreds of kids in a week,” said Beck. “For the sake of every single teacher, student and parent, we need clear guidelines and supports for substitutes and EAs across the province.”

Deborah Bidulka and Jo-Anne Barber are two substitute teachers who have made the difficult decision not to return to work this fall out of concern for their safety. Barber has asthma and a heart condition and is looking into the possibility of subbing online if that’s an option. 

“I want nothing more than to be back in the classroom this fall, but I know so many people in my situation who have made the difficult decision not to go back,” said Barber. “Without cohorting substitute teachers and addressing class size, there’s just no way it’s safe, and I worry about how schools will function without us.

“The reality is, there won’t be enough subs. We don’t feel safe.”

Bidulka said the shortage of substitute teachers predates COVID-19 but will be much worse now. Often, she said, she subs for Special Education teachers when they’re sick, but sometimes she would find herself covering off other classrooms as well. The school administrator would come to her and say, “Deb, we’re short today — can you cover Grade 6?” She’s concerned about what might happen to class size if substitute teachers and EAs are not available.

“Safely reopening schools means ensuring smaller classes and enough EAs and substitutes to keep too many kids from mixing together,” said Bidulka. “I’m frankly shocked that the province has done nothing to address this.”