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Thames Valley board’s substitute-teacher hiring ‘blitz’ a COVID-19 sick-day shock absorber

Author of the article:Heather RiversPublishing date:Aug 22, 2020  •   •  2 minute read(File photo)Article contentThe region’s largest school board has hired a slew of new supply teachers and will continue to hire as many as possible as it braces for COVID-19 outbreaks and expected seasonal illnesses in its 161 schools.The 280 new supply teachers for now — 12 per cent more than normal — will step in if a full-time teacher has to go into quarantine or stay home due to illness, Thames Valley District school board officials say.“We have just done a hiring blitz of occasional teachers because we recognize we will need more occasional teachers than ever,” said TVDSB education director Mark Fisher.Board staff and students are mandated to stay home if they display any symptoms of COVID-19 through a self-assessment during the school year.In total, this fall the board will have 1,750 elementary and 860 high school occasional teachers on staff. During the last school year, the board employed more than 3,500 full-time elementary teachers and 3,507 high school teachers, as well as 291 principals and vice-principals.Craig Smith, a local leader with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), called the mass and ongoing hiring “a good thing and a necessary thing” for schools.“The numbers have been low so they need the occasional teacher to cover absences when teachers get sick or we are mandated to participate in professional development or any of the days we need to replace — it’s important to have coverage,” Smith said.Full-time teachers are in demand to teach the seven virtual schools and 500 classrooms that have been created for the 12,000 Thames Valley students who will be learning remotely during the school year.“For us to cover the redeployment of teachers into those environments, they need teachers who will fill long-term occasional assignments,” Smith said. “The more the occasional teachers there are, the better.”This week, a coalition of Ontario educators voiced concerns about health risks related to supply teachers working in multiple schools amid the pandemic.Ontario Education Workers United, made up of high school teachers, is the latest to sound the alarm over the Ontario government’s back-to-school plan, which has also drawn fire from teachers’ unions, some parents and students.“We have been hearing a lot from occasional workers that they are very worried and feel unseen in this whole process,” said James Campbell, a coalition organizer.Fisher said the risk will be mitigated by personal protective equipment supplied to each teacher, including mandatory medical-grade masks and optional face shields.“We’re going to do our best to restrict contact points with those students but we recognize with some staff there will be movement between schools,” he said. “There is an element of risk, but it’s about risk mitigation.”Some staff will also be wearing gowns and gloves in high-risk environments such as special education classes, he said.With files from The Canadian [email protected]

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