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North Island teacher’s union president speaks out on functional closures

School District 85 is still struggling to hire teachers in remote and rural areas

Vancouver Island North Teacher’s Association President Jason Voth says it was “illness” that caused the staffing shortage at North Island Secondary School last week which led to a functional closure.

“I think it’s a matter of, over the years, teachers basically felt like they had to go in and had to be knocking on death’s door before calling in sick,” he said, adding that the pandemic has made teachers quickly realize “it’s not appropriate or responsible to go in to work while sick,” which is what ultimately caused the staffing shortage to occur.

The province has warned residents that functional closures will likely continue to happen due to COVID-19-related issues, and school districts hold the power to make the decision to call a functional closure, not the province.

As for teacher staffing issues in the North Island, Voth noted not much has changed over the years, as School District 85 (SD85) is still struggling to hire teachers in remote and rural areas.

“It’s definitely been a challenge for the last three years,” he confirmed, stating they were able “to cope” the first year after the B.C. Liberal government had been forced by the Supreme Court of Canada to restore the teachers’ contracts they had originally stripped, “but we’re still having real issues finding people to come up here, and I don’t know if trying the same hiring and recruitment practices is going to work anymore.”

Voth added that lack of housing is still a serious issue here as well, noting that all kinds of working professionals can’t seem to find accommodations in the North Island, which is a big challenge that SD85 has been dealing with when it comes to the recruitment of teachers.

As it stands, SD85 is currently relying heavily on Teachers Teaching On Call (TTOC) to keep schools running. “We have very few of them [TTOC’s] and most of them are retirees,” Voth confirmed, “and their dedication and willingness to do whatever it takes to try to help the students in our schools is phenomenal, I cannot thank them enough for staying around.”

So what can be done to fix rural and remote teacher staffing issues? Voth says there are incentives that could be offered like loan forgiveness, which would be a real help for new teachers just starting out, but also pointed out that school districts should be looking inside their own local communities and encouraging people who are qualified to apply for work.


@NIGazette
editor@northislandgazette.com

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